I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of the Middle East.
This debate is especially timely. Tomorrow, the United Kingdom and Norway will host a series of major international meetings on the middle east peace process and related issues, the first major international gathering on this topic since Annapolis and the Paris donor conference at the end of last year. Today, I shall speak briefly about five areas—Israel and Palestine, Iraq, the Gulf, Iran, and Lebanon and Syria. Events across the region are intimately linked, of course, and are touched on in all four of the UK’s foreign policy priorities.
I want to start by looking at the middle east peace process. The UK wants a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the middle east. A solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an important precondition for long-term peace in the region. The Annapolis conference in November 2007 showed renewed consensus for action and we continue to see Annapolis as the best hope for peace since 2000. However, as the tragic scenes from Gaza and Sderot show only too clearly, much more progress is needed. We continue to push both sides to make real progress in negotiations and to take the necessary steps to improve the everyday lives of ordinary Palestinians and Israelis.
UK policy is based on support for a two-state solution, for those committed to a peaceful process and for economic and social development across the occupied Palestinian territories. Recent violence, especially in Gaza, is a cause of great concern. Israel has real security concerns, but Israeli action must be in line with international humanitarian law. Closures of border crossings in Gaza are having a grave impact on daily life. We call on both sides to refrain from violence and to work urgently to reopen the crossings. Our priority in practical terms is to support the emergence of a stable, viable Palestinian state. Tomorrow’s ad hoc liaison committee meeting will focus on assuring funding for the Palestinian Authority and support for development and reform.
In Iraq, we have seen significant progress since 2003. New democratic political structures are beginning to bear fruit. Local communities have turned against al-Qaeda and are entering the political process. The Iraqi Government have taken tough action against armed groups and militias, regardless of their sect, and Iraqi security forces are delivering on their responsibilities.
In Basra province, since handing over security responsibility to the Iraqis in December last year, we have seen strong evidence of the increasing capabilities of the Iraqi armed forces—as reflected in the recent operations in Basra. We are enhancing our training and mentoring effort with local security forces as they build on their capacity to deliver their own security with only limited coalition support. We remain committed to supporting the work of the Government of Iraq and Basra provincial authorities in returning Basra to its former prosperity through a range of joint UK-Iraqi initiatives to support investment and economic growth.
Sustainable progress in Iraq will be achieved only by continued support from the international community. Important challenges lie ahead, including the need for progress on key nation-building legislation, the provincial elections scheduled for later this year, the humanitarian situation and the need to support the maturing Iraqi democratic structures and Iraq’s security forces. We remain committed to Iraq through our UN and coalition obligations. Above all, we will stand by the commitment we have made to the people of Iraq and will continue to encourage Iraq’s neighbours to do much more to support those positive developments.
The six Gulf Co-operation Council countries are increasingly important to our strategic interests, particularly the need to counter terrorism, radicalisation and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. We need close engagement with Gulf partners to support our efforts to promote a low-carbon, high-growth economy and we welcome their increasingly active role in all the regional issues I shall touch on today. The participation of the Gulf states in the ad hoc liaison committee meeting this week is a welcome example of such activity.
I have visited the Gulf twice recently and have seen the huge opportunities available to UK companies. Dubai alone is now home to 120,000 British citizens and British expertise extends to the significant numbers of workers and businesses found in Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
I agree totally with the Minister about the importance of Saudi Arabia and other countries as market opportunities for our business people. Lord Jones of Birmingham will leave his post as trade emissary at some stage in the future, so would the Minister consider lobbying the Prime Minister for a dedicated envoy to focus on promoting business interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states?
I certainly would not want to undermine the position of my noble Friend and colleague by speculating about who might step into his post. He is doing a very good job and he knows the Gulf region very well, but I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. It is very important that, whatever else we do, we do not simply use the Gulf as a point of transit to other parts of the world. It is an extremely important node of the world economy and we must continue to pay great attention to the area. Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman—I am sure that he knows this already—that the Gulf is now one of the parts of the world that is most visited by Ministers, as it ought to be. My noble friend Lord Jones is doing a very good job in co-ordinating those activities.
Let me turn to Iran, where we have particular human rights concerns. The use of the death penalty is rising year on year and the pressures on human rights defenders are mounting. Today, on May day, I want to recall the trade unionists and other activists beaten or imprisoned in Iran for their involvement in last year’s May day demonstrations and urge the Iranian Government to release Mansour Osanloo and Ebrahim Madadi, two leaders of the transport workers union in Tehran.
Iran’s nuclear programme presents the greatest immediate challenge to non-proliferation. Tehran has hidden the most sensitive aspects of its programme for nearly two decades and still refuses International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors the access that they seek. Iran’s role in the region also undermines efforts to resolve conflict and to work towards reconciliation and reconstruction. Support from Iran for extremists in Iraq and the supply of weapons from Iran to the Taliban is wholly unacceptable.
Iran has a long history and great potential and we would like to see it become a trusted partner in the international community and a responsible player in the middle east. Iran’s leaders have a choice between the path of increasing isolation and confrontation with the international community or a transformed relationship with the world, with all the political, economic and technological benefits that would bring. I urge them to make the right choice.
We are deeply concerned by the current political crisis in Lebanon, where there has been no president for five months. The UK continues to support all international efforts to find a solution and the Foreign Secretary took part in an international meeting in Kuwait last week to discuss possible ways forward. We are offering our support to the Government’s attempts to maintain peace and security in Lebanon. The UK has contributed $1 million to support the special tribunal for Lebanon, more than $1.5 million to improve the security of the border with Syria and $1 million of training and equipment to help the Lebanese army maintain public order at times of civil unrest.
Will my hon. Friend give us some indication of the contact that there has been between his office and UN refugee agencies? When the Select Committee on International Development recently met representatives we got the feeling that the approach taken by the refugee office in Jordan and that taken by the office in Damascus were somewhat disjointed. The situation at the moment does not appear to be terribly satisfactory, and I would be grateful if my hon. Friend confirmed what discussions he has recently had with those agencies.
We are very concerned about the dislocation in the organisation of refugees in Syria, Jordan and other countries in the middle east. We want to see much more co-ordination by UN agencies and more money put in by Iraq’s neighbours. We think that that is a very important issue.
My hon. Friend will recall that we debated Lebanon after I visited the country about 18 months ago. One of the things that we were particularly concerned about was the thousands of cluster bomb munitions that remained in place. I know that the British Government have been giving money to programmes to rid southern Lebanon of Israeli cluster bombs, but will he update the House and tell us whether we are anywhere near getting rid of all of them?
The work has been proceeding very well and I congratulate the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, under the leadership of General Graziano. It has done a superb job in conjunction with the expertise that we and other countries have provided. Although I sense a degree of satisfaction with the progress that has been made, there is a long way to go and we cannot take our eye off the ball. We must continue to ensure that the personnel and expertise are there to clear the cluster bombs.
The next few years could bring positive changes in the region. We will do what we can to support a new, more stable and prosperous middle east, but only the region’s leaders can determine its direction.
I thank the Minister for his speech and, in particular, welcome the emphasis that he placed on the strategic relationship of the United Kingdom with the countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council. Those relationships—both economic and political—are of profound importance to our national interests.
I also offer the Minister the Opposition’s strong support for his call for a political settlement in Lebanon. The recent impact that the failure to find such a settlement had on the Arab League summit in Damascus makes it clear that the continuing delay and stalemate are starting to damage relationships in the region. That is bound to have a knock-on effect on other political questions such as the Israel-Palestine dispute.
I want to say a few words about the Israel-Palestine issue, especially given the importance of tomorrow’s meeting of the ad hoc group. Conservative Members strongly endorse the objective of seeking a two-state solution. One only has to start to contemplate the alternatives and how disastrous they would be to see that, however difficult it will be to make political progress, it is right to move as fast as we can towards an outcome in which Israel, secure behind internationally recognised frontiers, can live at peace with an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state.
It seems to me that there are three difficult issues that need to be confronted to make progress on that front, the first of which is Gaza. I just cannot see how any long-term settlement will be possible between Israel and the Palestinians if Gaza remains in its current state or anything like it. Yesterday, I met representatives from the major non-governmental organisations active in providing relief within Gaza and they told me about the humanitarian catastrophe that they are witnessing. They said that the water and sewerage systems are now on the verge of collapse and that 80 per cent. of the people of Gaza are dependent on food aid and that such food aid that exists supplies only 80 per cent. of the required daily calorie intake for the people who receive it.
Given the history of Gaza and Israel in the past few years, it will be incredibly difficult to make progress, but I would be interested to know more of the Government’s assessment of the chances of persuading the Hamas regime in Gaza to stop firing rockets at Sderot and Ashkelon and, in parallel, of persuading Israel to start to relax the blockade to allow some semblance of normal economic life to return to Gaza.
I am sure the whole House agrees with the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but is he aware that the World Bank recently reported that Gaza’s economy recorded zero growth in 2007 and that this could continue only as long as Israel keeps up the economic blockade? Does he agree that it should lift that blockade?
I was aware of the World Bank report. I believe that the blockade needs to be lifted, but that the rocket attacks on Israeli cities need to cease. The two things have to go together. I will be interested to hear from the Government what information they have had from the Egyptian authorities about the talks that the Egyptians have been having with the Hamas rulers of Gaza to see whether progress can be made.
Secondly, we also clearly need to see progress on the west bank itself. If moderate leaders, such as President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, are to succeed, they will have to be able to demonstrate to their citizens that negotiations are bringing political and economic fruits. I will say happily from the Opposition Benches that we very much support the work that Tony Blair is putting in as the Quartet’s representative in trying to secure economic progress for the Palestinians. We hope that tomorrow’s meeting achieves some significant steps forward in pursuit of that objective.
When we talk to anybody in Israeli politics or any citizen of Israel, it becomes clear that the questions of economic progress on the west bank and the security of Israel are intimately connected. There is no doubt that there has been an enormous impact on Israeli domestic opinion from their experience of having left Gaza, dismantling the settlements there and then finding that, instead of being able to leave in peace, they were the recipient of rocket attacks on civilians in their southern cities.
I have seen reports that one possible way of making progress on the west bank that would allow the checkpoints and road blocks to be removed would be to have some kind of international presence on the ground to supervise and enforce a more limited number of rigorous checks on people and goods to a standard sufficient to satisfy the Israeli authorities about the security of their people. Is that, indeed, something that will be considered at tomorrow’s meeting of the ad hoc group? Does the Minister believe that there is a readiness among European countries and in Israel itself for such an international presence to be deployed? Who would provide the personnel for such a presence and what type of people are we talking about? Are we talking about soldiers being deployed and police officers being sent to carry out duties or are we talking about civilian officials? It would be interesting to know more about what is planned.
Thirdly, we need to make further progress in making it clear to the people of Israel, who are very concerned about their security, that a settlement with the Palestinians will indeed lead to a regional settlement in which Israel’s right to exist as a neighbour is fully recognised by the wider Arab world.
I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman says. However, on the question of Israel’s relations with its neighbour and particularly with the west bank, does he agree that the wall, which is not sited on the internationally accepted green line and which takes 10 per cent. of the west bank, including some of its most fertile land and water sources, cannot remain in place if the settlement is to continue?
Yes, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. If the wall had been constructed along the green line of 1967, the Israeli Government would have a much stronger case than they do at present. The route that the barrier has taken is clearly in breach of international law.
Let me return to the issue of a regional settlement between Israel and her Arab neighbours. I want to put on record my belief that statements such as those made recently by King Abdullah of Jordan and Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia indicate that there are senior, respected figures in the wider Arab world who can see that if a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians can be achieved, the door will be open to normal relationships between neighbouring countries in the region, and to opportunities for co-operation on economic and political development, which will be of huge benefit to Arab countries and to Israel.
The decision by His Highness the Emir of Qatar to invite the Israeli Foreign Minister to attend the recent Doha forum on democracy, development and free trade should be applauded. I hope that many more such gestures will be made by Arab leaders, and that the British Government will encourage our friends in the Arab world to make it clear to Israel that huge regional opportunities will flow from a settlement with Palestine and the Arab world more generally.
Like my hon. Friend, I was at the forum. Was he, like me, impressed by the comments of Mr. Ben-Meir, the lecturer from New York university, who said that the Arab peace plan was of immense importance—indeed, was central—to achieving a solution, but that it needed to be accompanied by soft diplomacy? I think that that was my hon. Friend’s point. That is why the policy of the Arab states needs to be directed very much at the people of Israel, as well as at its Government.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Let me move on to the situation in Iraq. The Government recently announced that the planned reduction in the number of British troops in Iraq will be postponed. In his opening speech, the Minister talked about the political progress that still needs to be made in Iraq if a stable, democratic Government are to be established there; that progress will involve political leaders from all the main religious and ethnic groups in that country. He referred specifically to the provincial elections planned for later this year. Is he able to say anything further about the extent to which the continued presence of the current number of British soldiers in Iraq is dependent on that political progress in Baghdad and outside? For example, in the Government’s mind, are they tying the deployment of the current number of British troops to a successful, peaceful outcome in the provincial elections in the autumn?
We know from recent comments by General Petraeus that the Americans believe that the authorities in Iran have been supplying weapons that have been used to attack United States and British soldiers deployed in Iraq. Is it the British Government’s assessment that the Government in Iran have indeed been directly involved in the supply of such weapons, and are actively supporting attacks on members of our country’s armed forces? Clearly, if the Government have evidence that there is such a direct relationship, that has grave implications for the future of our relations with Iran. Like the Minister, I hope that we can establish better relationships with Iran in future—it is an important regional power—but we need progress, both in dealing with the potential threat of Iranian nuclear weapons and on the potential threat to our soldiers on active service in Iraq.
The conflict in the middle east is the biggest challenge that the world faces. Resolution of this issue is the key to peace in the region, and its stability will affect many countries around the world. It is more than 40 years since UN resolution 242. That is 40 years of disappointment, failure, and failed opportunities for peace, for which the entire international community, particularly the United States, should take responsibility.
It is clear that Palestine is in crisis. There is an obvious political crisis in the region, and there is an economic crisis, with few jobs and little prosperity, but more urgently there is a real humanitarian crisis, particularly in Gaza. The UN has declared Gaza to be
“on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution.”
Israel has closed Gaza’s borders, surrounding it with a wall that, in effect, makes Gaza an open prison with 1.5 million inmates, and placing the area under siege. The shutdown has left the area without fuel, regular electricity, vital medical supplies and food. More than 70 per cent. of the population are unemployed, and 80 per cent. rely on food from UN food programmes.
The largest hospital in the Palestinian territories, the al-Shifa hospital, is on its knees, with scant resources and staff who frequently go unpaid. The hospital has run out of up to 130 of the 450 medicines that the World Health Organisation considers essential, and has less than three months’ supply of another 80. The blockade means that there is a fuel shortage, and fuel is five times more expensive in Gaza than in Jerusalem. Electricity is supplied to Gaza for only 12 hours a day, and the hospital relies on generators, but the fuel shortage means that they, too, will one day stop, with potentially devastating consequences. Dr. Hassan Khalaf, director of the hospital, estimates that if the hospital were to lose all electricity, 80 patients, including 15 premature babies in incubators, would die within 30 minutes. It is not only basic medical supplies that are not being allowed in; vital machinery and spare parts are not getting through, although they would allow maintenance work to be done on damaged equipment that could help to save so many more lives.
Added to that are almost daily air strikes and land incursions from Israeli forces that have targeted homes, schools and hospitals and have killed hundreds of innocent men, women and children. The strikes have also damaged water pipes, meaning that raw sewage is being pumped into the sea, destroying the fishing industry and contaminating any fish that are caught. We must be clear that denying people medicines, fuel, food, employment and hope has nothing to do with security. That unjustified action is collective punishment of 1.5 million people because of the actions of a few individuals.
We must not allow the people of Gaza to feel as though the world has forgotten them or that they are second-class citizens. The international community must do everything that it can to alleviate their sufferings. Peace is not an impossible dream; peace is possible, but only if the international community and those on both sides of the conflict recognise that every life, whether Palestinian or Israeli, is equal. Every life is equal, and every life is precious.
The Israelis must first end the siege, let basic supplies in and show the people that they should have hope. We can then negotiate a fair and just political settlement, so that Palestinians and Israelis can live side by side in peace. If either side is serious about peace, the only way is through dialogue. Bombings and the siege will only prolong the problem.
We must ensure that we support the peacemakers on both sides of the conflict and help them to fend off the radicals and extremists on both sides, who seek to divide for their own ends. The international community, including America, must recognise three basic principles. First, the killing of innocent people in Palestine, Israel and Lebanon by bombs, missile attacks, assassinations or any other form of violence cannot be condoned and must be condemned. Secondly, Israel has the right to exist within recognised borders and live in peace. That must be recognised by all its neighbours. Thirdly, Palestinians must be able to live in peace, dignity and without fear in their own land, as specified by international law. We should give the Palestinians the support that they need to build institutions, and ensure that those institutions are respected by Israel and the rest of the world.
I agreed with much of what the Minister said in his tour de force across the middle east. I hope he will excuse me if I do not comment on all the issues that he dealt with. I shall focus on Israel-Palestine.
The Minister did not mention the Government’s view on reports that Israel and Syria may be thinking about talking and actively pursuing peace negotiations. The worrying intervention by the Americans almost seemed designed to try to stop those talks at first base. Will the Minister support that initiative? It reflects some of the movement with a number of Arab states in the region, to which the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) referred.
Many of those states are concerned about the growth in the strength of Iran. We all know that one of the many damaging consequences of the Iraq war has been to strengthen the hand of Iran in the region, whether through the proliferation of their weapons of mass destruction or their influence through funding Hamas, Hezbollah and the rest. The appalling hand of Iran is all over that region, and many of the Arab states are extremely concerned about that. Many of those states are therefore willing to try to go the extra mile to persuade the Palestinians and other Arab countries that they need to act. Part of the solution to stopping Iran is to get a final settlement of the Israel-Palestine situation. Talks between Israel and Syria, which may be symbolic of the movement of many Arab states, should be supported by us. If Israel is keen to go that extra mile, it should be encouraged.
Hon. Members in all parts of the House support a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state that is genuinely viable and sustainable. That is why many will have been concerned to see the recent comments of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that she believes the window for a two-state solution is closing fast. I do not think she welcomes that at all; she is merely reflecting some of the concerns on the ground, where the strength of the moderate Palestinians is being undermined. The increasing new settlements and the existing settlements in the west bank make the geography of a Palestinian state there even more difficult, turning that territory into a Swiss cheese, in President Bush’s words.
Peace talks are always urgent, but never more urgent than now. We all recognise the need to make a success of Annapolis. Hopefully, the talks of the Quartet in London tomorrow will go well. There is the prospect of a future conference in Moscow. Let us hope that that can happen. There are continuing talks promoted by Egypt to see whether there can be a ceasefire that Israel is prepared to accept. Let us hope that that happens. Whether through the Egyptian talks or otherwise, it is vital to persuade Hamas to stop firing rockets on Israel. It is equally vital that Israel is persuaded to stop the economic blockade of Gaza.
There are many barriers to progress on those fronts. The weakness of both sides in negotiations is probably the main one. If Hamas could meet the criteria of the Quartet, not least by recognising Israel and ceasing violence, that would be a major step forward, but given that that is unlikely in the immediate future, we must consider some of the small steps that can be made if the sides are to show willing.
One of those small steps relates to the economic blockade. Israel should move first on that. There is a moral case for Israel to move forward on removing parts of the blockade, particularly on health and water and sewage. In Palestine now there are lakes of untreated sewage, which are a massive health hazard and could contaminate water supplies for Israel. It is against their own interests, so I call on the Israeli Government—and on our Government to pressurise them—to enable that sewage to be dealt with urgently, through fuel supplies, electricity supplies or whatever other support is necessary. I was reading a BBC report which referred to a massive lake. If the dykes burst, there would be a tsunami of sewage, potentially swamping an area inhabited by 10,000 people. Do the Israelis want to allow that to happen? We must act on that. It is very much in the Israelis’ interest to do so.
I read another report from the BBC which would be another small step towards building confidence. Former Israeli generals who had responsibility for security on the west bank, working with senior Palestinian officials, proposed dismantling checkpoints. As the Minister knows, there are 500 Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks on the west bank, which throttle the west bank economy. The report, published recently, spoke about dismantling 10 of the main ones. That could give a boost to the west bank economy and be a major step forward in promoting good will.
In the six minutes that we have to cover the middle east, those are a few brief comments, which I hope the Minister finds constructive.
I am grateful to be called in a debate which, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, is timely not just for the reasons that he gave, but because it gives me the opportunity to report back briefly on the trip to the west bank, Gaza and Israel that four of us undertook two weeks ago. I was accompanied by my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) and for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) and the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather).
What we saw in Gaza was exactly as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Sarwar) and the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) described, but it was worse than that. What we saw was a place being starved of aid and help. Ninety-three million dollars of UN money is sitting there in the bank to be spent on housing for homeless people and people in bombed-out houses. The money cannot be used because Israel will not let the cement or the concrete through the border. For the same reason the sewage works that the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton mentioned are not being repaired. It is not lack of money, but the fact that the cement and the concrete are not available.
Gaza is half the size of my High Peak constituency, but there are 1.5 million people living there, of whom 1 million are living in poverty, and it is getting worse. We met two boys in Shifa hospital, an 18-year-old who had had both his legs blown off by an Israeli missile three days earlier, and a 14-year-old with one arm and the whole of his abdomen removed by an Israeli weapon three days earlier who had been denied permission to move to a hospital in Israel in order to get treatment. I am certain, two weeks on, that that young man is dead, like many other victims of the conflict.
Our trip to Gaza was marked in its final seconds by being 50 yd away from a Kassam missile going off as we went through the Erez crossing. That gave us, for a brief moment, a feeling of how people on both sides of the border feel in the pervading air of uncertainty, never knowing when that weapon is going to come across. No notice is given—such things happen out of the blue. I was told that of all those sad and pathetic missiles that are launched by individuals out of Gaza at random at the people over the Israeli border, a third do not even reach Israel and fall on Gaza territory. Things cannot get more sad, pathetic and amateurish than that, against the might of the sophisticated military force deployed by the Israelis in that area.
We made a point of going to Sderot in Israel, where we saw the same thing. It is a city in which 7,000 of those weapons have fallen in recent years. They have killed 11 people. I know that the issue is not one of score cards and scoring off one side against the other, but the day after we were there the Israelis killed 18 in retaliation for the bombs that had been sent over the border. In Sderot, 500 people had been injured and countless houses and property had been damaged. The people there are angry because they do not think that they are getting the support that they want from the Israeli Government; last year, they were in Tel Aviv protesting about that.
I think that there is an insidious reason why those people have to stay and are being kept in Sderot. When the Israelis left Gaza, they destroyed factories and jobs and, in effect, exported the jobs to Israel. Unemployment in Israel is at 8 per cent.; unemployment in Sderot is at only 3 per cent. If someone wants to leave Sderot, how will they find a job elsewhere and sell their house? I think that it is in the Israelis’ interest for the people of Sderot to be sitting ducks next to the border and targets for the sad and pathetic weapons that come over daily. In Israeli eyes, that justifies what my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central correctly identified as collective punishment.
I want to finish by talking about Azzun, the village that we visited on the west bank. I had never heard of it before; it is a village of 10,000 people just outside Kalkiliya. From the border of Azzun, the Israeli wall, mentioned earlier, can be seen. At that point, the wall is 20 km from the internationally agreed green line. Azzun has lost a third of its agricultural land to new settlers, who have moved in not only from Gaza, having been relocated, but from America, Ukraine and all over the world, and for whom settlements have been built illegally by the Israelis in the occupied territories.
In the centre of Azzun is a fountain, only about 100 m from the main road that passes the village. In January, there were a series of incidents in which children were throwing stones at settlers’ passing cars. That month, Israeli forces came in and set up roadblocks—mounds of earth—on every road around Azzun, put razor wire on top of the mounds and did not let anyone in or out of the village for weeks. Children coming from other villages for their education, and vehicles with food, were turned back. The major employers of the village lost three quarters of their employees within days, and were simply not able to trade.
I do not know whether those children had been put up to throwing stones; my guess is that children will be children, and children in occupied territories tend to express their parents’ frustration. Whether prompted by the stones or anything else, the Israeli forces went in and on 30 separate occasions—both during and prior to that period—imposed a total 24-hour curfew, not letting people out of their houses. Israeli soldiers were smashing street lamps at night and playing loud music after midnight to keep people awake. That really is collective punishment. Thirty-five children from Azzun disappeared during the weeks of the siege. Many were taken without charge to a prison in the Negev desert—taken to another country to be put in prison illegally. Two weeks ago, 15 of them had not returned and they were not allowed visits from their families, or representatives of them, while they were away.
The week before we went to Azzun, most of the roadblocks came down; the day before we arrived, the last of the military patrols left. Although the main roadblock was still in place, pedestrians were at least using that route, and vehicles were using other routes, in and out of the village. It was collective punishment—people were being made to pay the price for having settlers on their doorsteps and daring to live on the route planned for the wall.
Today, the people of Israel are observing Holocaust remembrance day, and it is absolutely right that none of us should ever forget how Jewish people suffered during the holocaust. However, that suffering must never be an excuse for the collective punishment by means of the illegal wall, which takes 10 per cent. of the west bank into Israel. It is not an excuse for illegal settlements with their own road networks and whose economies are split on a principle of separate development—or apartheid, as it used to be called in South Africa. Nor is that suffering an excuse for the economic strangulation of the west bank and Palestine. It is not an excuse for the disrespect for human rights on detention or for collective punishment—which is illegal, whatever form it takes.
I commend my hon. Friend the Minister, his Department and the Department for International Development for their work in trying to get aid through—especially to that prison called Gaza. I am not a religious person, but I do pray that the talks will be successful in the end.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt), and I commend his and his colleagues’ initiative in visiting Gaza. I have also done so in the past year. The situation there is one of despair, with all the consequences that come from 1.5 million people living in terrible circumstances. Let me return to that issue later.
This is a topical debate on the middle east, but the middle east is always topical, and it would be interesting to know why it popped up today. I did not envy the Minister or his brilliant advisers at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office having to produce a 10-minute speech to cover the middle east peace process, Iraq, the importance of the Gulf Co-operation Council, Iran, Syria and Lebanon for the edification of the House. It all makes this debate an exchange of headlines as much as anything else. It gives the Minister the opportunity to restate one or two Government positions, but it is almost impossible for us to get into the detail of any middle east issue.
However, let me try to get into the detail of one such issue—the United Kingdom’s representation and understanding in the middle east. Historically, we have an immensely strong position in the region. However, in the past 10 years we have lacked the joined-up thinking, ability and propensity to draw on our understanding as a nation. Part of that has been due to the emasculation of the policy making of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the first 10 years of the Labour Government. A concentration on policy making within a small cabal inside Downing street characterised the previous Prime Minister’s term in office, and that has wreaked havoc with our reputation in the middle east.
We have the benefit of years of experience among our diplomats and soldiers, who have taken time in their long careers to understand the region and the Arab perspective. The Government have preferred to trust their own dogmatic appreciation of events. In the past 10 years, we have chosen a path that has made our foreign policy on the region seem indistinguishable from that of our American allies. Our interests in the region are, however, profoundly different. We should recognise that.
Furthermore, the previous Prime Minister showed an interest that seemed sometimes childishly simple, and at other times deeply patronising, to those on the receiving end. He had a flair for fleetingly inserting himself into trouble spots as a sort of additional American Secretary of State—one thinks of his charge down the steps on to the tarmac in Syria for what ended up as a disastrous visit and his intervention in Lebanon—but it took him 10 years to visit the United Arab Emirates, which he did right at the end of his premiership.
That is one example of where our priorities were profoundly wrong in those 10 years, quite apart from all the conflicts we got into and the trouble elsewhere. I very much welcome the statement by the Minister that the Gulf Co-operation Council area is the area most visited by Ministers. I would particularly like to applaud the efforts of His Royal Highness the Duke of York in supporting the efforts of Lord Jones of Birmingham. The two of them are doing an immensely important job in fronting our business and trade interests in that region, and I am delighted that their efforts are getting the support from other Ministers that they so richly deserve.
As one of the parliamentary chairmen of the Council for Arab-British Understanding and the Conservative Middle East Council, I, like a scratched record, again ask Members to encourage more engagement with and more understanding of the region. We need to engage in more patient study of the issues and their causes so that we can understand them. We need to spend more time listening to the Arab world, and we need to listen to the Iranians and understand their perspective. I advocate visits by parliamentarians and Ministers to the region, but we should not forget the scale of the British-Arab and the British-Iranian interest in the United Kingdom. Those communities should be better engaged in our domestic processes, which will offer benefits to our foreign policy as well as to community relations in the UK. The obvious benefit is that we will then have a better understanding of how to pursue our interest in the region.
In three or four years’ time, Qatar is likely to have the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world. Where the Qataris decide to invest will be critical to many of our businesses and our country. Indeed, to secure our energy needs, we are engaged in creating important links to get liquid petroleum gas from Qatar. Let us just imagine, however, Iran providing that opportunity as well as Qatar. Along with the United States, we have pursued a policy of confrontation with Iran. I say nothing to defend the deeply unattractive Government of Iran or their position, but our policy is based on a profound lack of understanding of the Iranian perspective. A lot of what they do in their pursuit of diplomacy internationally is unforgivable, but we should at least try to understand why they pursue their aims in such a way. If we understand that better, we can begin the process—it will be long, but we have to start somewhere—of moving to a position where 75 million Iranians are again an effective market for British financial services and manufactured goods. Our oil and gas companies should be able to go in to assist in the development of Iran’s vast oil and gas reserves, for their benefit and ours. There is a massive mutual interest.
The product of our policy on Iran has, ironically, turned this deeply unattractive Government into the leaders of the most significant regional power. The decisions that they take, particularly with regard to the neighbouring conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan that we are engaged in, are immensely important for the United Kingdom and the thousands of our soldiers deployed in the region, whether we like it our not. We have to find a way of improving the outcome of policy on Iran, and we would be able to do that if we understood Iran better.
I briefly return to the Israeli-Arab conflict. We are debating the United Kingdom’s role and involvement in it, and by extension, that of the international community as a whole. I sometimes wonder whether it would not be better for the international community to step back a little. In the end, this conflict has to be resolved by the people of Israel and the Palestinian people. Until the basic insecurity of the state of Israel and the obvious injustice of what has happened to the Palestinians in the past 60 years are addressed—and those two can only be addressed together—the conflict will continue. The message I urge on Arab representatives to whom I speak and on the Palestinians whom I meet in the course of the extra work I do in Parliament is that they should address their policy to the people of Israel.
In the end, the people of Israel will have to vote for a Government who will do an historic deal with the Palestinians. In the same way, the people of Palestine will have to support a Government who do a deal with the people of Israel and their Government. That will happen only when there is a sufficient kernel of opinion in both countries that people want peace and are prepared to go through the pain required to get it. That means the Israelis have to appreciate the importance of the Arab peace plan, rather than just trying to push it away. It also means that the Arab League has to reinforce the statement of the Arab peace plan—an historic offer to live in peace in Israel and to offer it the prospect of normalisation with its neighbours. That peace plan must be driven through and reinforced with a soft diplomacy aimed at the people of Israel. It must convince them that Arab states really mean it when they talk about normalisation.
Once that message is put to the people of Israel, they can begin to address the insecurity at the heart of many Israeli people’s existence, reflected by the experiences referred to by the hon. Member for High Peak. I hope that such a position would give the Israelis confidence to begin to address the terrible injustice that has been meted out to the Palestinians. The story of the past 60 years is a horrifying one, which has overflowed into all the nations that border Palestine and Israel. One has only to look at the catastrophic effect of the involvement of Palestinian refugees on the politics of Lebanon—the awful Lebanese civil war and the enormous complications that that produced—to understand how important it is that the two peoples are reconciled.
I leave the Minister and the House with this thought. The international community is an external actor in this situation, and for the main players, the Israeli and Palestinian people, it tends to be a question of manipulating that community to achieve a particular objective. I sometimes wonder whether the international community should try to remove that opportunity from them, and ensure that the responsibility for resolving this conflict is not something for the Americans to broker, or for other external actors to deliver. This is about Israel getting its security within a region that is Arab, and how the Arabs and the Israelis deal with the situation together. They have to stop looking to the rest of us to sort it out for them. I offer that reflection having spent a long time thinking about how the UK and others can contribute to the situation. I sometimes wonder whether doing a little less might achieve rather more.
I followed with interest the comments of the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt). In the context of his comments about Iran, I can tell the House that during the spring recess I met a number of senior Iranian local authority officials who were over on a study tour at Glasgow university. That visit was sponsored by the Foreign Office, and I thought it was a useful way of exchanging views on a wide range of areas that did not involve the more controversial political issues that have bedevilled our relationship with Iran.
In the short time available, I want to highlight the situation in Gaza, which several colleagues have mentioned. The International Development Committee, on which I serve, produced its report on the occupied territories about 15 months ago, and it gives me no comfort to say that the pessimistic conclusions that we reached on the future of Gaza have largely come to pass.
Yesterday, we followed up that inquiry by taking evidence from John Ging, director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, and his message about the reality of life today for those who live in Gaza bears repeating. He said:
“Since January this year, 344 people in Gaza including 60 innocent children have been killed and 756 injured. Rockets have been fired into Israel every day and three Israelis have been killed and 20 injured.”
Violence in Gaza between armed groups has become endemic and there is a culture of impunity. We have heard that the economy has effectively collapsed, with 80 per cent. living below the poverty line, and the price of food and basic necessities has rocketed.
We have reached the point where UNICEF is literally trying to stop sewage backing up through the manholes on the streets of Gaza. As colleagues have said, the efforts of the Quartet’s special representative to build the urgently needed sewerage plant in Beit Lahia have been frustrated by Israel’s restrictions on importing concrete and electric motors for generators.
Almost all journeys have to be undertaken by foot, be it to schools, hospitals or work. Medical facilities suffer the consequences of fuel cuts, with no capacity to deal with difficult cases. I read with despair the World Health Organisation list of people who died between October last year and March because they had to wait for permission to leave to seek urgent treatment in Israel or Egypt. Some died while waiting at crossing points, and others, such as a one-year-old female child with liver disease, are refused a permit for security reasons. She died in March. The list is deeply depressing.
John Ging advises that on Tuesday UNWRA received a supply of food to enable it to deliver food aid for roughly six days, after having had to freeze its operations for the previous three. However, there is no promise of future supplies, and half of Gaza’s bakeries have had to close for lack of cooking gas.
As my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) said, the inescapable conclusion is that the residents of Gaza are enduring a collective punishment, as defined in international law, to a horrific extent, and there is apparently no end to it. Does the international community have to wait until an outbreak of cholera occurs before we decide that the current stalemate cannot be left unchallenged?
I join agencies such as Oxfam in praising the efforts of the Foreign Office and Department for International Development staff in Jerusalem, especially their attendance at the Israeli supreme court case on the challenges to the cuts to fuel and electricity, and their engagement with the Israeli authorities on that issue. Having met officials on our visit for our report 18 months ago, I know how hard they work there. However, that is simply not sufficient.
A new strategy is urgently required, and that includes facing up to the realities on the ground. Former President Jimmy Carter recently stated that little progress had been made since the Annapolis peace talks last November, and he is right. Construction of settlements on the west bank has continued, despite the pleas of our Government and others. In its evidence to our inquiry, the Department for International Development states:
“Such actions threaten the viability of the Palestinian state”.
Yet little public comment has been made, nor has there been any indication that there will be consequences for Israel if that course of action continues.
I urge our Ministers and other European Union Governments, as a matter of urgency, to speak up forcefully for the United Nations plan and take every diplomatic avenue to secure the opening of crossings to Gaza and the delivery of humanitarian assistance. The donor meeting tomorrow and the Bethlehem investor conference on 21 May offer two good opportunities this month to raise the issue, and I look forward to the Minister’s response on that point.
We also need to apply more pressure to Israel to uphold its international obligations to protect and provide sufficient humanitarian assistance. I especially urge the Minister to consider using the human rights articles in the EU association agreements to bring an end to policies that breach human rights. If such breaches are proved on either side, we should condemn them unreservedly.
I highlight the recommendation in the International Development Committee on the need to end the isolation of Hamas. That is not to condone its actions or policies, but to recognise that our strategy to date has failed and will not succeed in future. We need to support the moderate voices in the region who are trying to establish a ceasefire and reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. That requires courage, but let us not forget that until we take those steps, the intolerable suffering in Gaza will simply get worse.
As chairman of the all-party group on Saudi Arabia, I felt that this was an opportune moment to make a few brief comments on that country and share with the Minister some of the reflections on my recent visit to the kingdom with fellow parliamentarians. I led a delegation to Riyadh in February, and I am grateful to Prince Mohammed of the Saudi embassy here and Prince Sultan for their extraordinary efforts to make us feel welcome and ensure that the trip went smoothly.
Saudi Arabia is an important ally, especially in counter-terrorism. During our trip, we received many briefings from Saudi intelligence officers, who started to tell us about the extraordinary exchange of information that goes on between them and our intelligence and security officers. I was pleased to hear about the co-operation and mutual trust on sharing information and fighting terrorism.
As the Minister knows—he spoke so eloquently at the recent two-kingdom dialogue conference—Saudi Arabia is grappling with terrorism and it has equal difficulty in trying to tackle the problem. However, we were shown, as was the Foreign Secretary last week on his visit to Saudi Arabia, many of the pioneering ways in which that country is trying to rehabilitate offenders and dissuade them from wanting to be terrorists.
We also met many Ministers and King Abdullah, the custodian of the two holy mosques. In our discussions, he showed a great fondness and respect for our sovereign. I believe that the two sovereigns have a close working relationship and I was therefore pleased that he came to our country for the state visit. He sincerely wants good links with the United Kingdom and I hope that the Government will continue to promote Anglo-Saudi relations at every opportunity.
As the Minister may know—I have informed the Foreign Secretary—the king is initiating a forum for multi-faith dialogue in Saudi Arabia. Although he is the custodian of the two holy mosques, he wishes to hold more of an inter-faith dialogue between Islam and all the other religions around the world. We should support him in that. The Saudis are slightly dismayed about the total lack of media interest in King Abdullah’s tremendous efforts to initiate that forum. I regret that lack of interest, and I hope that the Minister will do everything possible to ensure that the British media start to report more effectively and more widely the king’s tremendous efforts to pursue the matter.
During our visit, we also heard discussions about the possibility of building the first Christian church in Saudi Arabia. The Minister knows that many Christians live in Saudi Arabia and I spoke up on the issue when I visited the kingdom. Starting to allow Christian communities to build churches would be a healthy step and I hope that the Minister will use his influence with the Saudis to promote that.
Our meetings with Saudi young people showed me their determination to achieve change and modernise their society. Time and again, I refer to the liberal elite—the BBC and most newspapers—who run our media. They like to denigrate Saudi Arabia and always focus on the negative aspects of that society. My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) talked about being like a scratched record. I for one intend to be like a scratched record in the House of Commons, in putting forward the alternative—the positive side of Saudi Arabian culture—and confronting our liberal elite media, which focus only on negative stories and denigrating Saudi Arabia. Saudi is an oasis of stability in the middle east and we need to support it as much as possible.
I am immensely grateful to my hon. Friend for the way in which he is presenting the positive case for Saudi Arabia. I hope that he will get across the message that we will never again expect British citizens to be treated in the way that Sandy Mitchell and William Sampson, a Canadian-British citizen, were from 2001 to 2002. I hope that my hon. Friend can get that message across, because if we and citizens of other countries cease to have such experiences in Saudi Arabia, the outlook for the positive things that he is describing will be so much better.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, the other day I had discussions with the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who is extremely upset about the treatment that one of his constituents has received in Saudi Arabia. I have assured him that I will set up a meeting for him to speak with the Saudi ambassador about the issue. Of course we need to challenge the Saudis. They are our friends and if we are to have a healthy relationship, we will sometimes need to challenge them. That is an intrinsic ingredient of a healthy relationship. We should show mutual respect, but challenge when we need to.
I spoke to the Minister about the huge opportunities that we saw for British companies in Saudi Arabia in construction, finance, mining, oil exploration and education. I was not trying to put him in a tight spot regarding Lord Jones of Birmingham, but I would like him at some stage to consider having an envoy specifically to promote British business in Saudi Arabia.
I am conscious of the time and know that other hon. Members want to get in, so I will make two brief final points. The first is slightly controversial, but as we are speaking on middle east affairs, let me say how concerned I am about the judicial review of BAE Systems’ deals with Saudi Arabia. The Minister may be aware of an organisation called the Campaign Against Arms Trade. Frankly, I am appalled by these unaccountable groups—I do not know who funds CAAT, but it is an extremely murky body. I want to know why CAAT is spending so much money on challenging the Government over BAE Systems, when so many British jobs are dependent on that vital trade and when there are so many problems in our country such as poverty—we are about to talk about poverty in Scotland. This murky organisation is trying to destroy British jobs by challenging the Government and BAE Systems over our vital trade links.
That challenge may have been successful in the courts, but the Minister may want to comment on that—I do not know—and the Government may challenge those initial decisions.
Finally, let me discuss the Arab peace plan. Hon. Members have spoken of the vital importance of the Arab peace plan in securing peace in Palestine and Israel. I, too, would like to express my sincere appreciation for all the hard work that the Arab League is doing, particularly King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The Arab League is genuine in its determination to find a credible solution. We must do everything possible to help the Arab League and Saudi Arabia, so that its proposals and imaginative solutions are deliberated on in this House and more Members of Parliament are aware of them.
It is understandable that the focus in this debate and the wider international community has rightly been on the situation in Gaza. However, it is also worth while mentioning again, as other colleagues have, that the situation facing the Palestinian people on the west bank, although not as severe as in Gaza, is nevertheless extremely serious. That situation becomes more serious day by day, primarily because of the activities authorised, initiated and approved by the Israeli Government in extending Israeli settlements on the west bank.
It is also worth remembering to condemn Hamas a little more than we have been today. Some 700 rockets have rained down on Israel since January. I hear what my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) said about many such incidents being a case of somebody trying their best in their back yard. However, Hamas has said that the purpose of the rockets is to cause Israeli migration away from southern Israel, so perhaps we should remember to condemn Hamas a little more.
If my hon. Friend had waited a bit longer, he would have heard me making that condemnation, which I will make now. Clearly everyone in the House would—indeed, does—condemn that activity. However, that should not hold us back from saying that pressure needs to be put not only on Hamas, but on the Israeli Government, to enter into the peace process more substantively than they have too often done in the past.
The settlement activity is an indication of the lack of good faith on the part of the Israeli Government. In spite of the Annapolis peace conference, there has been a continuation of settlement activity on the west bank in the past few months. That activity is in breach of international law and UN resolutions, and goes against the spirit of the Annapolis summit.
The Israeli organisation Peace Now has produced some statistics about settlement activity on the west bank in the past few months. There has been construction in 101 settlements, with construction started on 275 new buildings, while almost 1,000 units have been established in caravan neighbourhoods. At the beginning of March, the Israeli Ministry of the Interior approved the conversion of one local council into a new city. The number of tenders and construction plans in East Jerusalem has leapt. Tenders for the construction of at least 750 housing units in East Jerusalem were issued between December last year and March 2008, yet throughout 2007 and up to Annapolis, only two tenders for 46 housing units were issued. All in all, the Israeli Government are, according to Peace Now, promoting the building of more than 3,500 housing units in the neighbourhoods of Jerusalem located east of the green line.
When that is happening, there is every reason, bluntly, to doubt the good faith of the Israeli Government in working towards a settlement that we all want to see. That is not only why it is so important to put those facts on record, but why the international community needs to put more pressure on the Israeli Government to move towards a settlement that is at least acceptable to all parties in the area. I can understand why, with his lengthy experience in such matters, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) should feel that the international community should draw back and allow the parties to reach their own resolution of the disputes. However, the experience on both sides, particularly in respect of the approach of the Israeli Government over the past few months, shows that without that pressure we will not move forward to a genuinely acceptable peace settlement.
I hope that the message will go out from the House today that of course we want to see a stop to the rocket attacks by Hamas from Gaza or from anywhere, but equally that we need to see a change in the policies, actions and behaviour of the Israeli Government and in those actions that they authorise and support.
In seeking to apply pressure through the international organisations of which we are a part—I recognise what the Government have done in that respect—we will be reflecting the views of many of our constituents. I am sure that I am not alone in having a number of constituents who are active on the issue locally. Tomorrow, for example, one of the Amnesty International groups in my constituency is opening an exhibition of photographs showing the plight of the Palestinian people.
My constituency also contains the Hadeel fair trade shop, which imports products from Palestinian craft workers and sells them throughout the UK. It also imports olive oil that is produced by Palestinian farmers—sometimes with great difficulty, because of the transport restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities. I am told by Hadeel that in the past few years, almost 750,000 olive trees have been uprooted in the west bank, largely because of the activity of Israeli military units or because of the expansion of settlements there. That is worth mentioning, because although we talk about and want to see economic progress for the Palestinian people, even existing economic activity is being undermined all the time by activities either promoted directly or authorised by the Israeli Government. That is another example of how the Palestinian people continue to be put under pressure, and why the world needs to take action to relieve the immediate pressure on the Palestinians in Gaza and the west bank. It is also why we need to bring about a long-term settlement that can be accepted by the Israelis and Palestinians alike.
I thank hon. and right hon. Members for their contributions to the debate, which has been good. In particular, I thank the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) for his speech, which was, as always, thoughtful and well informed. He posed several questions that were picked up in other hon. Members’ speeches.
We are right to concentrate on the situation in Gaza and Israel. We could, as the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) said, have talked about several issues for some time. He has taken part in our many debates on the middle east, and I share his frustration. This is my first topical debate. I did not know what that was until someone explained it to me this morning, but I know that there certainly is not enough time to deal with subjects such as this.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury asked many extremely relevant questions, and set the scene of the appalling situation in Gaza with vivid descriptions. I say to him that we must keep up the pressure on Israel to see the good political sense in lifting the blockades. I doubt whether there is an hon. Member in the Chamber who would seek to defend the insane actions of Palestinian jihadist extremists. I think that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne) who described some of the effects that restrictions on gas supplies have had in Gaza. It is bad enough that the Israelis are restricting the supply of gas, but it was absolute insanity for Palestinian Islamic jihadists to blow up the pumping station at the border and kill two Israeli security personnel. I do not know why that sort of thing happens, although there are many theories, some of which we have heard today. Perhaps there are elements who want the situation to intensify and become worse—I do not know. The situation is doing no one any good. We have to keep making the case for diplomacy instead of those kinds of violent confrontations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Sarwar) outlined vividly the dire situation in Gaza, especially regarding key areas such as health care provision. We have heard several distressing accounts of children and others dying because they were not allowed admission to hospitals, in Israel and elsewhere, where they could have received treatment that might have saved their lives. He makes an important point, although I disagree with some of the points that he made. I say to him that it is quite right to emphasise that every time there is a perceived injustice, it creates more enemies for Israel and the peace process. The dilemma is not easy for Israel to solve, or for its defence forces or its Parliament, but it is making a great mistake by taking its eye off the fact that the deaths of children create more enemies. I would never condone the violent attacks on Israel. There is no defence for that approach, which has got people nowhere for the past 60 years. It has simply meant that people have been killed and maimed all over the place.
The hon. Member for Reigate made an interesting speech. He said that the international community should perhaps pull back a little and let the Israeli and Palestinian people face the issues that will determine the fate of both their countries. I have a lot of sympathy with that point of view, although I do not think that any of us can be sure what would happen if we were to do that. There have been attempts to do it in the past, which usually took the form of military invasions of Israel. Those scars are still there in the psychology of that nation and in its approach to its neighbours.
However, there is a kernel of truth in what the hon. Member for Reigate said. He made the important point that Israel and Palestine’s neighbours must wake up to the fact that they hold the key to the future of that region, and that it is no good thinking that the Americans can sort it out or that the British, EU, Russians or Chinese will sort it out. Ultimately, the situation will be changed by the decisions of the people who live in that region.
My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) and the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) made constructive points, which I was glad to hear. I very much hope that, as a consequence of the debate, the talks that will take place in London from this afternoon onwards—the ad hoc liaison committee talks—will at least keep the momentum going that was started at Annapolis. We have to do that. There is no other show in town as far as the diplomatic community is concerned.
Finally, the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) made an important point about King Abdullah, to whom we are all grateful for the renaissance in Saudi international diplomacy that has helped to put more life back into the Arab peace plan. I, too, pay tribute to the Arab League for its work.
It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings, the motion lapsed, without Question put, pursuant to the temporary Standing Order (Topical Debates).