Almost to the day, 12 months ago, Britain suffered its first ever suicide bombing attack. In one day, Britain became a victim in the global jihad. Fifty-two innocent civilians were killed, and hundreds were wounded. Israel has had to face that same threat every day of the country’s existence, not only from hostile states whose aim is to wipe Israel off the map but from terrorist organisations, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda, which target innocent Israeli citizens.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I want to get a little further into the debate before giving way.
This debate is not only about Israel’s personal fight against terror, but about its role in the global fight against terror. The face of international terrorism changed on 11 September 2001. Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said:
“We have received a wake up call from hell. Now the question is simple: do we rally to defeat this evil, while there is still time, or do we press a collective snooze button and go back to business as usual?”
The threat posed by global terrorist organisations was not caused by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as many have argued since 9/11. That international radical Islamist terrorism is rooted in religious fundamentalism, not in national conflicts. Like the US, Britain, Spain and other western countries, Israel is a victim of this global jihad.
Some will argue that terrorism against Israel and terrorism against Britain are entirely separate. I disagree. They are closely linked. Like Britain and other western countries, Israel represents a bastion of western ideals—of democracy, capitalism and the rule of law.
I agree with our Prime Minister when he said in April 2004 that
“the best long-term security for us is the spread of freedom, democracy and values that all civilised people share.”—[Official Report, 11 January 2006; Vol. 441, c. 278.]
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He is setting the historical context for this debate. However, we are approaching not only the anniversary of 7/7, but the 60th anniversary of the bombing of the King David hotel. Rather more people were killed on that day than were killed on 7/7. That attack was carried out by someone who, in 1946, was called a terrorist, but he went on to become the Prime Minister of Israel.
In setting the context for our debate, I hope that my hon. Friend will look at both sides of the argument and examine how movements develop, how the tactics of those engaged in a national liberation struggle have changed, and how people’s view of the characters involved in an unfolding drama and an appalling history have changed over time.
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. Indeed, my father was in the British Army in the middle east at that time, and was based at the King David hotel. As it happened, he had just gone out for a sandwich, otherwise I would not be here today.
Of course, there are some big differences between the two events. We now know that the Irgun Zvai Leumi made an alarm call to the hotel but that it was ignored by the British forces. We must also remember that it was British forces who were based at the hotel, not innocent civilians. I do not condone terrorism, but to compare what the terrorist organisation Irgun Zvai Leumi did to the King David hotel with the blowing up of innocent civilians in night clubs in Israel is completely and utterly false.
It is our responsibility to take every conceivable measure to combat worldwide terrorism and to stand up to those who aim to destroy our values. We must ally ourselves with states such as Israel that share our ideals of freedom and democracy, and have enjoyed success in fighting terrorism. The terrorists who attack Israel and those who attack Britain have one aim—to destroy the western values of freedom and democracy, and to install an extremist form of Islam in the shape of a worldwide caliphate. We have seen the oppression inflicted through sharia law by the Taliban in Afghanistan and by the fundamentalist regime in Iran.
Anti-western hostility drives the global terror networks. Fundamentalist Islamists do not hate the west because of Israel; they hate Israel because the state of Israel is a bulwark of democracy, Judeo-Christian ethics of tolerance, western progress and freedom in the middle east.
The purpose of today’s debate is to recognise the global nature of terrorism, which is supported and aided by state sponsors of terrorism, and to urge the Government to take all necessary measures against those states that prop up radical Islamist terrorist organisations and to co-operate with Israel in the face of continued threats to its existence by hostile neighbours—the state sponsors of terrorism, Iran and Syria, and the terrorist groups that they support.
There is no international terrorism without the support of states. International terrorism cannot be sustained for long without the regimes that aid and abet it. Terrorists cannot operate in a vacuum. They train, arm and indoctrinate their killers in safe havens in territories provided by radical states. Those regimes often provide the terrorists with intelligence, money and operational assistance, dispatching them to serve as deadly proxies to wage a hidden war against more powerful enemies.
The Iranian regime is a principal player in supporting global terrorism, as our forces in Basra have found to their cost. Since 1979, when the Islamic republic was established, the Iranian regime has viewed terrorism as a legitimate means to further its ideological and strategic aims—exporting the revolution, assisting worldwide Islamist groups and attacking Israel. Hezbollah, Iran’s Shi’ite revolutionary proxy in southern Lebanon, is the spearhead for Iran’s export of terrorism, aimed globally and particularly at Israel. Iran also supports Palestinian terrorist groups, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Britain and Israel share a common interest—the common threat posed by Hezbollah. Not only does Hezbollah target Israelis and Jews across the world, from Argentina to north Africa, but it provides Shi’a militias in Iraq with weaponry and training in terrorist tactics to kill British soldiers. With representation in 40 countries, Hezbollah has the capability to prepare attacks against western interests.
I am still struggling a little with the hon. Gentleman’s definition of terrorism. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House abhor the targeting of innocent civilians from wherever it comes. However, in answer to the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), he seemed to draw a distinction between the targeting of innocent civilians by what he called Palestinian terrorists and the killing of British regular soldiers in the King David hotel—although I am sure he does not approve of the latter. Would he also draw a distinction between the targeting of Israeli civilians by Palestinian fighters and the targeting of Israeli troops?
In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate, I said that all terrorism is wrong. However, my hon. Friend was trying to imply a similarity between the dreadful attack on the King David hotel, when advance warning to evacuate the hotel was ignored, and attacks such as that on Mike’s restaurant and discotheque in Tel Aviv, when no advance warning was given. All terrorism is wrong; the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right.
Moreover, there is evidence that Hezbollah is facilitating al-Qaeda’s plans to attack Israel. On 27 December 2005, al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for firing Katyusha rockets into northern Israel from southern Lebanon, a feat impossible without the knowledge and permission of Hezbollah. We in Britain must not stand idly by while Iran arms and finances some of the most dangerous international terrorist organisations. Yet Hezbollah in its entirety does not feature on the British or European Union list of proscribed terrorist organisations. The European Union is lagging behind the United Nations Security Council, which, in June 2005, condemned Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel and reiterated demands, under UN Security Council resolution 1559, that the organisation be disarmed and that Lebanon exercise sovereignty over its border with Israel.
If the Government are taking the fight against terrorism seriously, why are they not doing more to force Hezbollah on to the EU list of terror organisations, and to prevent the raising of funds to perpetrate acts of terrorism against British and Israeli targets?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. On Hezbollah, is he aware of the view held by some academics that, in the event of the relationship between Iran and the west deteriorating—particularly if there is the prospect of a military intervention—one of the methods that the Iranian regime would very probably use against the west would be terrorism through Hezbollah? For the west, the threat of terrorists from Hezbollah is very real.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. In this debate, I am talking about things that have actually happened and clear evidence of Hezbollah involvement; I do not wish to speculate on future events. However, I know that the view that he just expressed is very widely held by military and intelligence experts in the west. I thank him for that helpful intervention.
In April, it emerged that Iran has some 40,000 suicide bombers poised to strike at Britain and elsewhere. Dr. Hassan Abbasi, the head of the Centre for Doctrinal Strategic Studies in the Revolutionary Guards, has warned would-be martyrs to
“pay close attention to wily England”
and vowed that
“Britain’s demise is on our agenda.”
The Iranian regime is a major threat to international peace and security. A fundamentalist regime hellbent on acquiring nuclear weapons is a threat to the west because it would grant the terror network, including al-Qaeda, a nuclear umbrella and allow Iran to increase its support for global terrorism. While the UN Security Council grapples with the Iranian nuclear issue, Iran threatens Britain, the United States and Israel. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has threatened Israel with annihilation, denied the existence of the holocaust, and continues to incite anti-Semitism worldwide.
We in Britain must recognise that the threats issued by Iran are not empty and that they are directed not only against Israel, but directly against us in the west. Innocent British lives will be at risk if we fail to combat that brand of international terrorism. What is the difference between Iranian extremists promising to send suicide bombers to Britain and Iranian-funded Palestinian terrorists blowing up innocent civilians in Tel Aviv?
One of the most striking examples of the links between terrorism in Britain and that in Israel came in 2003. With direction from Hamas, two British-born Muslim suicide bombers—Asif Hanif, from London, and Omar Khan Sharif, from Derby—attacked Mike’s Place, a popular British bar in Tel Aviv, killing three Israelis and wounding 60 others.
The media, including the BBC, use moral equivalence to compare Israeli reactions to terror attacks with the attacks themselves. However, let us be perfectly clear: there is no moral equivalence between a terrorist who blows up a bus, hotel, marketplace or ice cream parlour and a response by a democratic state to find and root out those terrorists.
I have considerable sympathy with those British troops serving in Northern Ireland during the troubles who were vilified for “overreacting” in the face of terrorist violence. It is only too easy for armchair commentators and politicians to criticise soldiers from either country, on the ground, defending us.
Make no mistake—the terrorist organisations in the west bank and Gaza are willing tools of the wider causes of Islamic jihad. Not only is Hezbollah training and financing Palestinian terrorist organisations such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas, but, as confirmed by the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Abu Mazen, in those territories, there are now terrorist cells that have been recruited and funded by al-Qaeda networks operating from Israel’s near neighbours, Jordan and, yes, Egypt too.
I recognise that there has been suffering on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; many innocent lives have been lost. As our Prime Minister says, the only resolution of this conflict will be a two-state solution, reached through negotiation and a complete end to terrorism: a viable Palestinian state that lives side by side with a secure Israel.
I give way to the hon. Gentleman, whom I have not yet let intervene.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that in his discourse he should say something about Israel’s breach of international law in its construction of the wall and in the killing of wholly innocent civilians by Israeli forces? For example, there were that poor family who died on the beach in Gaza and the children assassinated by Israeli troops operating illegally in the west bank and Gaza.
I take issue with the hon. Gentleman when he talks about children being assassinated; that implies that there was a deliberate attempt by Israel to kill children. I do not accept that at all. Of course I have sympathy with those killed when Israelis go into Gaza and the west bank to try to eradicate the terrorists.
The wall has been the subject of other debates, and I shall not go into the issue now. In fairness, I have to say—and the hon. Gentleman should know—that I do not totally agree with the route that the wall is taking. However, the wall, or barrier, is a necessary defence. If—God forbid—Scotland got its independence and started attacking Britain, perhaps we would build a Hadrian’s wall to defend ourselves. Of course I do not defend the route of the wall, but we are not discussing that issue now. For the benefit of any Scottish people listening to this debate, I hasten to add that I am sure that they want neither independence nor to attack England.
Let me move on. Every day since the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza strip in August 2005 and the total withdrawal of settlers and soldiers, rockets have been fired—more than 500 to date—by Palestinian terrorists into Israeli towns. Hamas, Palestinian popular resistance committees, Islamic Jihad and splinter groups of Fatah have all claimed responsibility and pledged further attacks against Israelis in community centres, schools, homes and shops. Despite Abu Mazen’s condemnation, no Palestinian political leaders have taken any steps to curb the launch of Qassam rockets or other terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings.
The Gaza strip remains a safe haven for terrorists. Sadly, that is why the actions mentioned by the hon. Gentleman have had to happen. The Hamas-led Palestinian Authority has not only refused to take any action, but openly encouraged continued acts of terrorism against innocent civilians.
The 25 June terrorist attack against an Israeli defence forces position near a kibbutz, Kerem Shalom, was not, as media outlets have argued, a revenge attack—that was just sloppy journalism—but the culmination of a three-month project that involved the excavation of a tunnel originating from a Palestinian apartment block in Gaza. Clearly, that situation could not be allowed to continue.
I gave a rather clumsy argument about Scotland, but I ask again what Britain would do in such circumstances. Would it stand idly by as its innocent civilians were attacked? Of course not. We cannot have double standards and condemn Israel; we have to look at what Israel is doing. All nations have a duty of care to protect their citizens and since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005, 36 Israelis have been killed and 436 others wounded.
Let us be clear that democratic and free nations need to work together to combat terrorism. Israel cannot be treated differently from countries in the western alliance because of the protracted conflict with the Palestinians. It is because of that conflict and decades at the hands of brutal terrorism that Israel should be accepted as part of the western alliance’s global war against terrorism.
Israel has played a vital role in the struggle against global jihad. If it were not for its contribution to counter-terrorism and its daily struggle on the front line of terrorist attacks by global players such as Hezbollah and al-Qaeda, the middle east and the rest of the world would be far less stable. It is testament to Israeli security and intelligence services that its counter-terrorism activities in the middle east have had much success.
To support its war on terrorism, Israel has developed a highly co-ordinated and efficient intelligence apparatus. Britain must learn from Israeli examples of gathering human intelligence on terrorism by deploying undercover agents in Palestinian-controlled areas and recruiting local informants, and from examples of the vigilance and awareness of the Israeli public in preventing terrorism. Signals intelligence is no substitute for human intelligence, and MI6 is taking that on board. Incidentally, as we approach 7/7, I urge the British public to be vigilant, whether they be in London, Birmingham, Manchester or even in rural areas.
While paying tribute to the work of our own Secret Intelligence Service, Security Service and GCHQ, I also want to express our gratitude to the Israel security agency, Shin Bet, and to Mossad, the Counter-Terrorism Bureau and the intelligence arms of the Israeli police service and defence forces. We recognise that the time may not be right for Israel to join NATO as a full and equal member, although I would welcome it, but there would be considerable advantages for NATO if it were to upgrade its relations with Israel. Israel meets all the NATO criteria: it is a democracy with a free market economy, and it has logistics and intelligence capabilities that have been vital in the global war on terrorism. For example, it recently launched the Eros B high resolution reconnaissance satellite to monitor Iran’s nuclear sites.
Both human and signals intelligence can reduce the potency of global terrorism, but it should also be our objective to put an end to state support for terrorism and to cut off the financing, arming and training of terrorist cells.
In conclusion, may I ask the Minister four questions? I gave him prior notice of them and hope that he will answer them fully when he replies. First, will he confirm that Britain will take all necessary steps to combat international terrorism and will aim to add Hezbollah’s political wing to the European Union list of terror organisations? Hezbollah’s political and military wings are one and the same. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah leads both. There are similarities with the odd distinction that was made between Sinn Fein and the IRA during the troubles. They, too, were one and the same.
Secondly, will the Minister encourage his colleagues to ensure that there is even closer co-operation between our Security Service and that of Israel? Thirdly, will the Government give an assurance that Britain will begin co-ordinated and effective steps to force state sponsors of terrorism such as Iran, Syria and the Sudan to stop supporting global terrorist organisations? Finally, will he assure the House, in the light of Israel’s contribution to the global fight against terrorism, that the United Kingdom will guarantee Israel’s security, particularly in respect of the threat that would be posed by a nuclear Iran? That nation exports fundamentalist ideology and terrorism.
Let there be no mistake: it is clear that Israel’s security is wrapped up with our own. It is in the interest of our nation and the British people that we work with and defend the state of Israel in the global fight against terror.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) on securing this debate. However, what he said bears scant relationship to what is in fact happening in the world. He condemns Iran, whose odious regime certainly challenges the balance of power and peace in the world, for sending killers all over the world. Of course, Israel, which is a nuclear power that refuses to sign the non-proliferation treaty, has sent killers all over the world. One can see in the film “Munich” by the American Jew Steven Spielberg, who also was the director of “Schindler’s List”, how the Israeli Government sent killers out after the Munich massacre at the Olympic games. They killed innocent people in many parts of the world.
The reflection of reality that the hon. Gentleman offers is in stark contrast with what was written recently by the Israeli Jew Gideon Levy in the respected Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz about what is taking place in Israel and the Palestinian territories now. He stated:
“A black flag hangs over the ‘rolling’ operation in Gaza. The more the operation ‘rolls,’ the darker the flag becomes. The ‘summer rains’ we are showering on Gaza are not only pointless, but are first and foremost blatantly illegitimate. It is not legitimate to cut off 750,000 people from electricity. It is not legitimate to call on 20,000 people to run from their homes and turn their towns into ghost towns. It is not legitimate to penetrate Syria’s airspace. It is not legitimate to kidnap half a government and a quarter of a parliament…Everything must be done to win Gilad Shalit’s release. What we are doing now in Gaza has nothing to do with freeing him. It is a widescale act of vengeance, the kind that the IDF and Shin Bet have wanted to conduct for some time”.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Let me proceed a little.
The hon. Gentleman rightly condemns Hamas, which is a terrorist organisation that is responsible for the death of innocent people. He implicitly condemned the kidnapping of the teenage Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit but seems to imagine that somehow or other such events are peculiar to Palestinian terrorists. He does not refer to the fact that before Israel gained independence, Jewish terrorists led by two future Prime Ministers of Israel, Begin and Shamir, one of whom was a murderer and an assassin, kidnapped two British sergeants, hanged them and booby-trapped their bodies. Hamas has learned well from Jewish terrorists.
If the hon. Gentleman believes that the explosion at the King David hotel can somehow be legitimised, he ought to pay attention to the fact that not only 200 non-Jews but 19 Jews were killed there, and if he goes on about terrorism, let him somehow justify more than 200 innocent Palestinians being murdered by Begin and Shamir in the village of Deir Yassin. There are no clean hands on either side of this conflict.
I condemn Hamas. The party includes murderers, killers and terrorists, but it won a democratic election. President Bush, whose first election was not a democratic victory but a fiddled election that resulted in his appointment by the Supreme Court, seems to imagine that not only do we require democratic elections in the middle east but those elections can be accepted as democratic only if the people vote in the way we want. I did not want the Palestinians to vote for Hamas—I was there leading an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation before that election—but they did so. The more the Israelis go on oppressing and killing Palestinians, the more support for Hamas will grow.
The father of Gilad Shalit is quoted in The Daily Telegraph today as regarding the Israeli Government’s action, allegedly to free his son, as “delusional”. Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister of Israel, is quoted in the same article as having issued orders to the army to
“make sure that no one sleeps at night in Gaza”.
That is collective punishment. It is in direct violation of every canon of international law; yet the hon. Gentleman says that it is all right because Israel is a democracy. However, Hamas was elected by a democratic vote—hon. Friends of mine went to see that election, and saw that it was democratically conducted.
Let us be clear: terrorists are murdering Israeli citizens. That is culpable to the nth degree, but at the same time, the Israelis have killed 4,000 Palestinians since the second intifada began, including hundreds of children. The hon. Gentleman says that children are not targeted—but they are dead just the same. As long as we go on tolerating such unacceptable breaches of law by the Israeli Government, the more terrorism and support for it among the Palestinians will be fostered.
I have a brief question for the right hon. Gentleman. He has correctly pointed out that Hamas was elected democratically, but is it appropriate for the Foreign Minister of a democratically elected Government to say, as was said three months ago, that Hamas will not hesitate to kidnap Israeli soldiers
‘to exchange for (Palestinian) prisoners, should the opportunity arise’?
That was said by the Hamas Foreign Minister, Mahmud al-Zahar, on 7 March 2006.
Of course that is wrong, but equally wrong is the President of the United States kidnapping people and holding them in an illegal prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, which has just been condemned by the United States Supreme Court. As I have said before, there are no clean hands in this situation, but simply to target the evils of Hamas, which exist and must be condemned, is not enough if we are to see the whole spectrum of what is taking place in the middle east, and between the Israelis and the Palestinians today.
I quote again from the article by the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy:
“Did anyone think about what would have happened if Syrian planes had managed to down one of the Israeli planes that brazenly buzzed their president's palace? Would we have declared war on Syria? Another ‘legitimate war’? Will the blackout of Gaza bring down the Hamas government or cause the population to rally around it? And even if the Hamas government falls, as Washington wants, what will happen on the day after? These are questions for which nobody has any real answers. As usual here: Quiet, we’re shooting. But this time we are not only shooting. We are bombing and shelling, darkening and destroying, imposing a siege and kidnapping like the worst of terrorists and nobody breaks the silence to ask, what the hell for, and according to what right?”
The right hon. Gentleman has quoted from Ha’aretz in Israel, where people are quite free, but I should like to point out that I have not condoned terrorism on either side. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman listened to my speech, which was all about the global fight against terror, not the present Israeli situation, as I made clear early on. Does he think that there is a newspaper in Gaza or on the west bank that would publish criticism of its own Government on the same lines as the criticism against the Israeli Government that has been made in Ha’aretz and other Israeli newspapers? The answer is clearly no.
The answer is not clearly no. However, it is of course a bit difficult to publish newspapers in the Palestinian territories at the moment, particularly in Gaza, since Israel has destroyed the power supply, taking away air conditioning and water supplies in the most densely populated area on the face of the earth, in the heat of the middle east mid-summer.
The hon. Gentleman knows that I have a personal regard for him, but I recommend that he study the situation a little more, instead of trotting out a few statistics and believing that if he does that and says that Israel is a democracy, everything is all right. Yes, Israel is a democracy, but democracies make mistakes, as this country did when it elected Margaret Thatcher three times running. To be a democracy does not necessarily involve total wisdom on the part of the electors—apart from the electors in the Gorton division of Manchester, who have an unrivalled record on these matters.
Following on from the intervention by the hon. Member for Lichfield, I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would like to comment on the case of al-Haq, the respected Palestinian human rights organisation? Only yesterday it was circulating press releases that were critical of the actions of terrorist groups inside Palestine and of any support that they receive from the Palestinian Government. However, they also pointed out that 756 Palestinians are imprisoned in Israeli jails without trial.
My hon. Friend is a great expert on such issues and makes a valid point. I do not claim for one second that Palestinian democracy has produced a satisfactory outcome. It has not. On the other hand, however, to my mind Israeli democracy has not produced a very satisfactory outcome either. I am particularly sad that a Nobel peace prize winner such as Shimon Peres, in the vanity of his old age and for the sake of holding office, is colluding in such actions. I am also sad that a man whom I particularly admire—Amir Peretz, the leader of the Israeli Labour party—not only is a party to such violations of international law, but is inflicting them.
Our Government have been right all along in saying that the only way the issue can be solved is through direct negotiation based on the road map. As long as we continue as we are, more innocent Israelis will be killed, more innocent Palestinians will be killed and there will be no way out.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) on securing this debate. I wish to focus on the subject of the debate. It is all too easy to be partisan in looking at the details of the situation in Israel at present, but we should seek consensus on Israel as the focal point in the fight against terror. This country and others that have been victims of terror can join in that, but at the same time we should recognise that Israel is the focus of terrorist organisations. That must concern us all and we should all take action to deal with it.
I visited Israel in January, courtesy of the Conservative Friends of Israel, and have three abiding images that are relevant to this debate. The first memory is of going to northern Israel, to the southern Lebanese border, and seeing an armed Hezbollah terrorist standing 50 yards away on the border. That reminded me all too clearly of the presence of terrorist organisations. That needs to be tackled. As my hon. Friend said, it needs to be tackled by this Government as well through the way in which we deal with Hezbollah. As hon. Members will know, Hezbollah was established by Iran and Syria as a proxy for attacking Israel—as the spearhead for Iran’s export of terrorism. It seeks the destruction of the state of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic republic in Lebanon.
We need to recognise that Hezbollah is a threat to Israel, the United States and, indeed, the entire western world and we need to tackle it seriously. As the Foreign Secretary said in reply to a written question from the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright), we need to do that by calling on Hezbollah
“to contribute to peace and security in the middle east by renouncing violence, disarming in compliance with UN Security Council resolution 1559, and entering into the democratic process on an exclusively non-violent basis.”—[Official Report, 29 November 2005; Vol. 440, cc. 126-127.]
We can all unite on the response to that question, but we need to go further. As other countries, such as the US, Australia, Canada, Israel and, recently, Holland, have done, we need to recognise that Hezbollah is a terror organisation and to treat it accordingly. We cannot go along with the European Union in seeking artificially to differentiate between the political and military wings of Hezbollah.
I saw the situation for myself when I saw the terrorist standing there armed, guarding the border. I ask the Minister to respond on this particular point: Hezbollah is a terror organisation and we cannot separate the political side and what is called the external security organisation. We need to join the countries that I mentioned and recognise Hezbollah as an organ of terror.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield said, we need to recognise properly that Hezbollah is engaged in activities that are causing great damage to the region and instability beyond. It is threatening Lebanon’s own fragile democracy and independence from the Syrian occupation and it is causing instability and conflict to cross the UN-drawn Israeli-Lebanese border. It is a cause of instability in Israel and further afield.
We also need to recognise the activities of al-Qaeda in the region. I am referring not only to activities that we can see, but to the words of the al-Qaeda leaders bin Laden and Zawahiri. They have mentioned not so much Afghanistan or Iraq but Palestine as a higher priority. In recent times, they have carried through phases of operations in Afghanistan and beyond. Now we are seeing, particularly in Israel, the results of their activities.
In August 2005, the Syrian citizen Louai Sakra was arrested while planning to blow up cruise ships containing Israeli tourists. On 27 December 2005, nine rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for that attack. On 2 March 2006, Palestinian security forces caught al-Qaeda operatives in Gaza and the west bank, and the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, admitted that there was proof of the infiltration of al-Qaeda into the west bank and Gaza.
We need to consider more broadly the war against terror, but inevitably the focus is Israel and the Jewish people. My second abiding memory is of Yad Vashem, the holocaust memorial. When I visited it, I was reminded that even when the war was over and Jewish people were going out of the camps, the killing of the Jewish people continued relentlessly. That reminds me and should remind us all that anti-Semitism and attacks on Jewish people continue to this day. We can see that in the words coming from Iran. As has been said, the Iranian President said that he wished to wipe Israel off the map. We should remember the words that have often gone in tandem with an attack on Israel and the Jewish people—words that constitute a denial of the holocaust, in which more than 6 million Jews were murdered.
Would the hon. Gentleman like to speculate on this issue in the context of what he has been saying and of the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman)—who, it is fair to say, is a political hero of mine, so I do not disagree with him—on the behaviour of the Israeli Government? My right hon. Friend is the last person among us who needs a lesson in the history and travails of the Jewish people and the Israeli nation. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to speculate on whether the current behaviour of the Israeli Government, rather than merely being dismissed as terrorist behaviour, should be put in the context of the recent and longer history of the Israeli state and the Jewish people and the current situation, which the hon. Gentleman is discussing.
I am grateful for that intervention. It is important to put these issues in the proper context, which is why this debate is so important and welcome. We need to consider the context of the fight against global terrorism and the context that I am seeking to draw out, which is the battle and the need for the Jewish people to have a safe place to go. That context is important and we should never dismiss it, because it is constantly under attack from terrorists. Indeed, it is constantly under attack in broadcasts of hate on the airwaves. That hate goes to the heart of the concerns for the Jewish people. It is anti-Semitic filth. We need to ask the Minister to consider how we can seek to tackle the funding for those broadcasts. We need to cut that funding off at supply, because it supports terrorist organisations. There are physical attacks on Israel and there are verbal attacks. We are dealing not just with a strategic battle, a battle of war, but with a state of mind that is built on hatred and evil. We need to ensure that the Government are at the forefront of tackling that.
That brings me to my third abiding memory from my visit to Israel, which is the words of Tommy Lapid, who was the last surviving victim of the holocaust who was a member of the Knesset. He gave an account of his experiences and what he saw as the rationale for the state of Israel. He sought to caution us about focusing only on the everyday occurrences and concerns in Israel and about the need to look more broadly at what Israel is about. He recounted how his family had in effect left him on his own when he was fleeing the ghetto, because they wanted him to run for it. He was completely isolated, fleeing from the ghetto, a place where the Star of David had to be worn and a place of great vulnerability. At the very moment when he was seeking a hiding place in a closet, he realised that a place was needed for him and the Jewish people to go. He reminded us that that need still exists today.
That is why we need to condemn properly the words of, for example, Mohammad Samadi, a spokesman for the committee for the commemoration of martyrs of the global Islamic campaign, who was seeking to recruit suicide bombers to the terrorist cause. His words in that recruitment drive are very pertinent:
“The first target is Israel. For us, that is the battlefield. All the Jews are targets, whether military or civilian. It’s our land and they are in the wrong place.”
In relation to the fight against terrorism, we need to recognise that, at present, the first target is, sadly, always Israel. We need to hear the concerns of Tommy Lapid and others that they need a place to go. We need to stand four-square behind them to protect that place to go, so that we can tackle terrorism properly and support Israel and the fight for freedom and democracy.
Order. I hope to start the winding-up speeches at 12 o’clock.
I thank the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) for securing this important and timely debate. In recent weeks and months, there have been several Westminster Hall debates on matters relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wider middle east regional context. I was fortunate to secure a debate a couple of weeks ago on the prospects for peace in the middle east. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) initiated a debate on the subject a couple of months ago, and I seem to remember that the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke) introduced a debate on Iran in recent months. I hope that this debate adds further strength to a request that I made to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House a couple of weeks ago in business questions for a debate of a similar nature but much longer on the Floor of the House in Government time to discuss these vital issues.
The hon. Member for Lichfield raised some important points and I think that what he said about terrorism in Britain being similar to terrorism in Israel was accurate and appropriate. I also agree with him that there is no international terrorism without state support, and that is something that I want to discuss. Paying attention to the question of state-sponsored terrorism rightly puts the debate on Israel and the Palestinians in a regional context, which is necessary to understand the conflict properly. The conflict does not exist in a vacuum. It is played out on a regional stage, with global repercussions; the hon. Member for Lichfield and other hon. Members mentioned the role of Iran and Syria, and their contribution to the conflict through sponsorship and funding of terrorism, and it is right to raise those matters.
While the international community continues to exert pressure on the Hamas Government to recognise the state of Israel, it is important to remember that influential regional actors—Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, all of which exert various degrees of influence on Hamas—have also never recognised Israel’s right to exist, and continue to vie for its destruction. Iranian and Syrian state-sponsored terror undermines the peace process and threatens regional stability. Groups supported, bankrolled, armed and in some cases even controlled by Iran and Syria include Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hamas.
As far as I am aware, Syria is fully signed up to the Arab League position and the Arab League supports the peace plan of Crown Prince Abdullah, which, indeed, would have recognised the state of Israel within the boundaries of 1967, so what the hon. Gentleman says is slightly misleading, rather as the link between al-Qaeda and the Government of Iran, as presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield, may have come as a slight surprise to the pair of them. We should try to use occasions such as Westminster Hall debates to arrive at a joint analysis, rather than to trade different sides of the story, and to understand why things are as they are in the middle east. If we can go forward on the basis of joint understanding, we shall be doing the House of Commons a favour.
I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but the Hamas political leadership outside the Palestinian territories finds a safe haven in Damascus, with protection by the Syrian leadership, including Khaled Mashal, one of the leaders and founders of the Hamas movement and its charter. Syria, for example, hosted meetings between Mashal and the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad in January 2006. Iran, for example, is believed to be a major source of funding for Hamas, including its wide network of social and welfare institutions. Iran offered to send $50 million to the Palestinian Authority to alleviate the budget crisis after the election of Hamas, when the rest of the international community suspended funding and pressured the Hamas leadership to accept the responsibility of being a democratically elected Government.
It is not only Hamas that Iran and Syria sponsor. Hezbollah, to which Iran provides training, weaponry and expertise, not only threatens Israel along its northern border, but is increasingly active in the west bank and Gaza, where it supports and trains terrorist groups and provides financial incentives for launching attacks against Israel. Similarly, while Iran continues to support and fund terrorist organisations, President Ahmadinejad launches rhetorical attacks against Israel. That, together with its attempted procurement of nuclear weapons, surely constitutes an existential threat to Israel and raises the alarm for the future stability of the region.
I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s contribution, but in the context of the extraordinary intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), who tried to exonerate Syria, I want to say that, in Iraq, let alone Israel, we know of the operations of the Syrian Government and Iran, with respect to British and American troops.
Order. May we have short interventions now?
In fact, that will do, Mr. Martlew.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman.
The international community must continue to use its influence to encourage dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians. It is crucial to remember that the middle east peace process is just that—a process for the middle east region, requiring Iran and Syria to stop aiding terrorist organisations.
Will my hon. Friend give us an idea of what he thinks Israel’s borders are, and what position Israel is taking in negotiations on the matter of its borders and settlements?
I do not think that it is for me to say what Israel’s borders should be. I think that there is consensus that the 1967 border gives scope for discussion, and that would be the most appropriate step.
Is not the core of the problem the fact that today, on the road map that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton was talking about, Israel does not exist for Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran? Therefore, Israel is in a position only to create a solution by itself. There is no one to negotiate with.
I agree. In the debate that I secured in Westminster Hall a couple of weeks ago on the prospects for peace in the middle east after the Israeli elections, I was struck by the comments of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who said that we all know the solution—it is Israel and a Palestinian state working together, side by side, with mutual economic and social co-operation. People recognise that and it is important that everyone should recognise it as the end point of the process.
Israel’s war against terror will continue to undermine its efforts towards peace. The damage that terrorism causes is all too visible, and events in the region in the past week have highlighted how acts of terror can derail any positive trajectory for peace. In the midst of all the fighting that has been sparked since the attack on Kerem Shalom last week, and the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit, Hamas and Fatah signed what is known as the prisoners document. We should be cautious about reading too much into that. The document does not require Hamas to recognise the state of Israel or to cease its armed struggle, but it does recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation as sole representative of the Palestinian people, giving President Abbas the power to negotiate with Israel and put an end to factional in-fighting.
In an area as volatile as the middle east, pigeon steps are welcome, and that was a relevant and right pigeon step. However, Palestinian groups working against peace and intent on a terror agenda have ensured that that development has been obscured by the murder of two Israeli soldiers and the kidnap of a third. If any progress is to be made in the peace process, Israeli citizens need to feel secure. They need to feel that they can go about their daily business free from the threat of suicide bombers—as, of course, do decent, ordinary Palestinians. They should feel secure as well and able to walk their children to school without worrying about being hit by a rocket launched from Gaza.
Israel needs to win its war against terror with the help of the international community, so that the cycle of violence can be replaced with moves towards negotiation, reconciliation and peace.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) on securing the debate, which is particularly appropriate after the events of the past couple of weeks. I also congratulate the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) and the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) on their contributions, which were very sound and full of a lot of sense, which is required if we are to help both sides in the middle east go forward.
The hon. Member for Lichfield—to whom I apologise for missing the first sentences of his speech—referred to Israel as a victim of global jihad. That is true. There is certainly some evidence that there are jihad attacks on Israel. However, to imply, as that statement does, that the whole basis of the attack on Israel is religious intolerance is to misunderstand the debate. The Palestinians have been used and abused for a long time. They were first thrown out of what they considered their homeland and then abused by the Arab world, which left them, often, in camps with conditions that were not very good, when most of the Gulf was swilling with oil and there was plenty of money that could have been used to relieve some of their problems.
The idea that the conflict is all religious is not true. I worked in Iraq in 1982 and was privileged to have lunch with one of the senior accountants. The gentleman concerned, whose name is long gone from my memory, was very articulate. He was educated in Great Britain, very western in his approach and very gentlemanly. We were having a very pleasant conversation, but as soon as we touched on the subject of Israel, he talked about pushing all the Zionists into the sea. Those remarks had nothing to do with religious intolerance; they had to do with a lot of other deep-seated animosities and a conflict that goes back not just to 1967 and the 1940s, but to the 1930s and, indeed, 1919. Ultimately, a lot of the responsibility goes back to the 1919 peace talks in Paris, which did many things, but did not secure peace in many parts of the world.
The Foreign Affairs Committee has been looking at the causes of the war against terrorism, and I recommend its report to hon. Members. I am not saying that I agree with every word, despite being on the Committee, but there is a lot of common sense in it. On the issue of Palestine, I refer hon. Members to a contribution from the Foreign Secretary. Paragraph 2.20 of the report states:
“We asked Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett what the Government is doing to impress upon the Israeli government the need for a negotiated settlement. She told us:
We have made it extremely clear to the Israeli Government, and the Prime Minister did to the Israeli Prime Minister yesterday, that we are looking for negotiations and for a negotiated settlement and that we would view any unilateral action by the Israeli Government as—I was going to say very much second best, but we would be reluctant to see such unilateral action because we believe that negotiation is the right way forward.”
I hope that the Minister will confirm that, despite the events of recent weeks, we are still committed to negotiation and bringing other parties on side, rather than to unilateral action.
The hon. Gentleman still has not answered the question that I posed earlier: how can Israel do anything but be unilateral when the other side does not actually recognise the state of Israel?
Memories are very short. Fatah never used to recognise the state of Israel, but, eventually, it was brought to the negotiating table and accepted a two-state solution. Recent discussions with Hamas indicate that it, too, was moving towards accepting a two-state solution and accepting that the Palestinian territories could exist on one side of the 1967 border. De facto, Hamas is recognising the Israeli state, although it has not explicitly said so. There is still a long way to go—I am not saying that the problem is not significant—but the way to resolve it is to bring third parties in to talk to Hamas and to bring it to the negotiating table.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am not taking further interventions. We have only a short time.
We have only to look at the past to see how other Palestinians can be brought forward and to see that that can work. That is what we need to do. Hamas did not expect to win the election, but it has now found itself in a position of power. That was a shot out of the blue, and Hamas is coming to terms with it, but that will take time.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me time to intervene, but will he not accept that it is extraordinarily difficult to insist that Israel should negotiate with Hamas when we do not have a ceasefire because Hamas has broken away from it and declared its intent to kidnap people and use them as bargaining chips in what it clearly perceives as an armed conflict? How can we insist that Israel take only the route of negotiation when the people with whom we insist that it negotiates are not even prepared to bring about a ceasefire?
We can insist on negotiation because that is the only way in which we can achieve a resolution, although that is not always easy. History shows that, whenever there has been a terrorist insurgency—in Kenya, Northern Ireland or anywhere else in the world—the Government at the time have said, “We will not talk to terrorists.” However, to resolve the conflict, they have always sat down behind closed doors in third-party negotiations and talked to the terrorists, and they have actually brought about a resolution by doing that. We will not bring about a resolution, however, by unilaterally attacking, destroying and alienating.
The Old Testament saying that one should take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is often linked to Israel. However, Israel and its supporters—particularly the United States—should consider another old saying, which is that one should divide your enemies if you wish for victory. If people take actions that unite their enemies, it will be far harder for them to gain peace and achieve victory in the longer term. Those who support unilateral action are the same people who supported the arguments for war against Iraq. It was argued that we had a big stick and could get rid of Saddam Hussein, but we did not realise the can of worms that we were opening. Our history and our actions teach us that, if we had had a bit more negotiation and a bit more time, we would not have the mess that we do in Iraq. We would not have British soldiers being killed on the streets of Iraq, where they should not be, if we had got the negotiations right in the first place and sorted things out.
To conclude, the Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, declared:
“We are prepared to renounce parts of the land of Israel so precious to us, in order to bring about the conditions for you”—
“to bring about your own dreams and to live side by side with us in peace and tranquillity. The time has come for the Palestinians to adapt their dreams to recognise the reality of Israel.”
To an extent, that sounds very good and very reasonable. However, writing in Jane’s on 1 June 2006, Lawrence Davidson responds:
“From the Palestinian perspective, Olmert’s intention to fix Israeli ‘borders’ unilaterally by 2010 would mean the annexation of at least 46 per cent. of the West Bank, including all of East Jerusalem. This would be accompanied by Israeli withdrawal from outposts beyond the security fence. Palestinian Prime Minister Haniya responded to Olmert’s declaration by stating: ‘We will obviously not prevent Israel from withdrawing, but this does not mean that we consider the borders they set to be those of the Palestinian state.”
That is one reason why the contention that religious war is the primary cause of the present problems is wrong. In many ways, the Palestinians are fighting an old-fashioned war over territory, not religious belief. If we forget that, we do both sides a disservice.
I, too, warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) on securing the debate. As the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) said a few minutes ago, this is not the first time in the past few months that we have gathered to discuss the wider aspects of the middle east. Rather like Captain Renault in “Casablanca”—the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) will appreciate this analogy—we could be said to have rounded up the usual suspects, and the passionate speeches that we have heard have been similar to some that we have heard before. They have been passionate, of course, because the issue divides not only the people of the middle east but colleagues in the House of Commons.
I was very much taken by the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), who said that we should try as far as possible to look ahead and decide what, if anything, we in Britain, and particularly the British Government, can do to help resolve what appears an almost intractable issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield stated very strongly that he wanted to make it clear that Israel was participating in a global war on terror and that it was therefore up to the British Government to back the Israeli Government at every possible level. I adopt a slightly more subtle approach on this. We know that the Government and my party resolutely stand by Israel’s right to exist, and to take measures against those who carry out acts against it. Indeed, the British Government and our intelligence and security forces regularly co-operate with the Israeli Government. However, that does not mean that we think the Israeli Government have the right to take complete, unilateral action whatever the consequences.
Many people in Israel and within the Israeli security establishment realise that a proportional reaction is more likely to achieve the desired overall results, the first of which is to ensure that there is wider support within the region and the western community. The second aim, which we are partly debating, is to resolve the immediate issue of extracting alive the Israeli soldier who is being held somewhere in Gaza. That is the objective of his parents and the Israeli community. I can well understand why the Israeli Government have always refused to compromise on any form of prisoner exchanges, but we need to keep that measure in mind.
In relation to the war on terror, the British Government rightly have to work in conjunction with other Governments in the middle east. The political, diplomatic and intelligence relations that we have—imperfect though they sometimes are—with Israel’s neighbours in Egypt, in Jordan and in the Gulf are of absolute, fundamental importance.
I spent much of my life, in a previous existence, teaching British military personnel, and learning as much from them as they ever learned from me, about counter-insurgency, insurgency and terrorism. In one sense, the wheel has come full circle. One thing that I learned was that one cannot take out the narrow, military-intelligence, police action against terrorism without thinking about the wider political and economic context. That is summed up in the understandable logic behind Israel’s defensible border strategy, which I recently saw on the ground from both the Israeli and the Palestinian perspectives, which is to secure Israel against suicide bombers. That is a laudable and understandable action, but as Israeli security officials said to me, it will not resolve the issue. At the end of the day, the resolution will be a political one, in one way or another.
We are always in danger of reliving Major-General J. F. C. Fuller’s constant tactical factor. I apologise for bringing in a bit of an anorak element here. Dear old Major-General J. F. C. Fuller believed that any advances that are made in strategy, operational planning, organisation or technology that aid the offensive or the defensive will always be countered. What happened with Israel’s defensible borders was that a Palestinian group decided to dig a tunnel; they decided to operate Major-General J. F. C. Fuller’s constant tactical factor. In the war against terror, whether in Israel or in the wider war against terror facing us today, there is no complete military-intelligence solution. There will always have to be a political one.
In the context of this debate, the bottom line for my party is that we stand by Israel’s right to exist. We are absolutely firm on that, but we also recognise, as do most Israelis, that peace will come about in that part of the middle east only when there is recognition of an independent Palestinian state that is not a security threat to Israel and that provides a decent standard of living and security for its people. If we do not have that, there will be endless terror and counter-terror operations of one kind or another.
I recognise that it is incredibly difficult to imagine negotiating directly with Hezbollah, Hamas or any other such organisations, although I take the point made by the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) that invariably negotiations do take place, often at third hand. However, the objective, at least in the long term—for many Israelis the long-term objective is actually the very short-term objective of securing the release of this particular Israeli soldier and preventing the attacks that are taking place—must be to bolster the activities of those living in the Arab world, to make certain that they are not prepared to support such terrorism, as it is not in their interest to do so. It may well be that taking purely military action against them is not the most subtle way to do that.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Abba Eban, the former Israeli Foreign Minister with whom I worked closely on trying to resolve this issue, and who was wiser than the entire present Israeli Government put together, once said to me, “If you’re going to make peace, who else do you talk to but your enemy?”?
Yes, I understand that, and it is true unless one is ultimately faced with a war of annihilation and extermination. I understand, from an Israeli point of view, having been in that position once before, that they are sceptical to say the least. It is up to us collectively to make certain that that does not happen, through robust support of Israel while recognising that we want to work for a political solution.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chope. The last time we were here together was six years ago, when you initiated a debate on Government drugs policy. I do not know if you remember that, but I do.
I thank the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) for initiating this important debate, which is part of the framework of discussion and debate on this and related issues taking place in this House. It marks this place out as a democratic institution. What we say here is listened to not just within the confines of this place but outside it. Today’s debate may give some people hope that there will be co-operation across the piece regarding the strategic importance of the region and the need to resolve the problems there through dialogue rather than conflict in all circumstances.
I thank the hon. Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes), for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) and for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) for their timely contributions, and my colleagues, my right hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy) and my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) and for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon).
I thank also my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) who has shown his knowledge and skill on this issue, as he has on many issues in the Labour movement, and who gives wise counsel on occasions. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington, I, too, am a fan of my right hon. Friend, who has a quiet courage. More than 15 years ago, when it was not the thing to do, he was one of the first people to speak out on this issue about the need to bring together enemies to discuss, debate and ultimately reach a decision about recognising Israel and its secure borders and recognising the right of the Palestinian people within their secure borders. Part of the development of this policy has been due to my right hon. Friend. On almost all occasions, he has taken the first step in the development of such policies, and I thank him for that.
In the time that I have left, I will try to deal as best I can with all the issues raised by hon. Members. However, at least 12 issues have been raised, so if I cannot deal with them all, I will write to hon. Members and place the letters in the Library, so that all those who took part in the debate will get responses, if that is helpful.
The current situation in Gaza is deeply worrying. It is a serious concern for all of us and for our international partners. I would like to reiterate the deep concern that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs expressed on behalf of the Government on 25 June, after the attack near the Sufa crossing, in which two Israeli soldiers were killed and one was taken captive.
The UK continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of Corporal Shalit. We, and our European Union and G8 partners, are also urging Israel to show the utmost restraint at this time of crisis. We have made clear our concerns about the destruction of essential infrastructure affecting power and water supplies. We will continue to urge Israel to protect civilians, and to call on the Palestinians to put an end to all acts of violence and help to seek the safe return of Corporal Shalit.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North raised a particular point about the wall—the barrier. I confirm to him that although Israel has the right to self-defence, the building of the barrier in occupied land is contrary to international law. There is no doubt about that. On 15 September 2005, the Israeli court ordered the rerouting of the barrier because of its damaging impact on some Palestinian villages in the west bank area. The Government continue to be concerned about the route of the barrier in the occupied territories, because it is illegal.
I know that the Minister has to get through his 12 points, so I shall be as brief as possible. On his last point, perhaps he, in consultation with his ministerial team, could make the strongest possible representations to the Government of Israel about the latest construction of the barrier. It is already uprooting olive trees in the Cremisan area of Bethlehem, which is home to a monastery where some fairly fine wines are made. It is one of the world’s greatest heritage sites and the routing of the wall means that it is being cut off as we speak.
I fully take on board what my hon. Friend says, and I shall take the matter up as he requested.
Today, all democracies around the world face a common threat: international terrorism. Terrorist networks do not recognise borders, and their deadly attacks have been perpetrated in different nations across the globe, irrespective of religion, ethnicity, or culture. The threat is of a new order because of the willingness of small groups to inflict mass casualties in pursuit of radical objectives.
The international response over the past few years has made significant ground, and for the first time many nations and cultures are working together to combat this menace. The concept of an international community, based on core, shared values, recognising the need to uphold civil rights, and prepared actively to intervene and resolve problems, is an essential precondition of a nation’s future prosperity and stability.
In bilateral and multilateral forums, the UK is working to weaken the capabilities of terrorist groups by promoting international co-operation and building political will and government capacity in key countries. We are promoting reform abroad to address the structural problems that can push people towards extremism with violent consequences. We are also learning from other countries, such as Malaysia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where there is good engagement in programmes of de-radicalisation.
State sponsorship of terrorism is totally unacceptable; it is beyond tolerance, in fact. It is an instrument that Governments should and must abandon. Where Governments continue to believe that agreement with terrorists’ objectives justifies their methods, the British Government’s view is simple: such state promotion of terrorism is unjustifiable and must cease. There is no moral distinction between an attacker who deliberately targets civilians or a state that wittingly provides the resources that facilitate such a terrorist attack in the first place.
We are actively examining the problem of states that offer refuge or support to terrorists, and are tackling other areas where they may enjoy a safe haven. We continue to encourage international action to curb those who advocate or champion terrorism. I shall say a little about that later.
I also want to make it clear that our relationship with Israel is vital. There are cultural, trade, investment, education, defence and political links, and a regular exchange between our two countries. We also have a vibrant Jewish community here, and that is so important. The contribution made by that community, and other former immigrant communities, makes this country what it is: a proud, diverse, multicultural and tolerant society. The contribution is not only welcome, but recognised. It brings about a flourishing bilateral relationship. I shall be visiting the region in the months ahead.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton and the hon. Member for Lichfield raised the issue of the middle east peace process. The Government remain absolutely committed to the process that will lead to a negotiated two-state solution. Our immediate priority is to create the conditions to allow negotiations to get under way. Only through a negotiated settlement can we achieve a lasting peace; there can be no violent solution to this conflict. We remain firmly committed to reviving the final status negotiations as soon as possible on the basis of the Quartet road map, and we continue to give every impetus we can to moving the process in that direction. We reiterate our call to Hamas to adhere to the three Quartet principles: renounce violence; recognise Israel; and accept previous agreements, including the road map.
We are clear that we need to see a change in Syrian policy in a number of key areas before Syria’s standing in the international community can be fully rehabilitated and before our bilateral relationships can improve. It needs to fulfil its obligation under Security Council resolution 1559, which calls for an end to all foreign interference in Lebanon, and to co-operate fully and unconditionally with the United Nations commission investigating the terrorist attack in February 2005 which resulted in the death of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, and 22 other innocent people.
Syria also needs to do more to improve co-operation in Iraq, and must think carefully about its relationship with Iran. We must also seek progress towards internal reform in Syria and greater respect for human rights. It is absolutely clear to the Syrians that we expect them to use their undoubted influence to secure de-escalation and restraint in the region. They must dissociate themselves from the terrorists responsible for the tragic, untimely and futile violence in the region.
The hon. Member for Lichfield also raised the issue of Iran and set out widely held concerns about its approach to terrorism. Progress in our relationships with Iran will depend on its acting in this and other areas, including the proliferation of weapons, and human rights. We have repeatedly pressed Iran to renounce all links to groups using violence and to support a solution to the Palestinian issue based on the principle of the two states living side by side in peace and security. Iran funds and has strong connections to Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and provides financial support to Hamas. We are continuing to investigate the improvised explosive device attacks in Iraq, where the nature of some of the explosive devices used against our troops continues to lead us to Iranian elements or to Lebanese Hezbollah.
The proliferation of nuclear weapons in the middle east would severely threaten peace and stability in the region. We, together with France, Germany, the United States, Russia and China, have been at the forefront of international efforts to encourage Iran to address serious international concerns about its nuclear activities. We have proposed a way forward to give Iran everything it needs to develop modern, civil nuclear power programmes, while meeting international concerns. To create the conditions for talks to resume, Iran should reinstate its suspension of enrichment-related reprocessing activities, as required by the International Atomic Energy Agency board and the Security Council. We would then suspend action in the Security Council. We hope that Iran will take the positive path that is being offered. Should it not do so, there should be no doubt that the matter will return to the Security Council for further responses.
On Iraq, our complete commitment is to a democratic and stable Iraq, to bring about peace and prosperity not only to the people of Iraq but to the region as a whole.
Hon. Members have spoken about intelligence co-operation. It is not normal practice to discuss intelligence matters, and they will understand why, but I give an absolute assurance that there is close co-operation between the UK organisations, including the police, security and intelligence agencies and Departments, and many other countries, not just Israel.
Finally, I again thank the hon. Member for Lichfield for initiating this in-depth debate. I shall return with a more detailed reply on some of the issues that he and other hon. Members raised.
Counter-terrorism measures exist to help us preserve democratic and free societies. At the most basic level, measures that protect innocent civilians of whatever religion, ethnicity or culture from an attack are supporting one of the most basic human rights—the right to be alive—and they protect people’s ability to enjoy fully their other rights. We respect and promote human rights not only because it is the correct thing to do, but because it is one of the most effective ways to undermine the terrorists. I again thank the hon. Gentleman for this debate.