ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIANS – 16 April 2002

Dr Julian Lewis: Even if the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (George Galloway) has little time or patience with the Foreign Secretary, there are plenty of voices on the Official Opposition Benches who appreciate what the Government are trying to do and applaud the measured tone and balanced approach that the Foreign Secretary took this afternoon. 

 

I believe that the Palestinians played into the Israeli rejectionists' hands by refusing a generous deal with Ehud Barak at Camp David less than two years ago. I believe, too, that the Israelis have now played into the Palestinian rejectionists' hands by responding to terrorist bombings with a military offensive. Terrorism should be met by proportionate and effective measures, and that is not happening. I hope that the House will not play into the hands of the rejectionists of both sides by adopting double standards. If ever there were a case of extremists feeding off each other, it is this one. It has reduced the prospect of rapprochement between Israel and the Palestinians to the present dire straits.

 

I have been sad to see that double standards have explicitly been applied in the course of this debate. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Menzies Campbell), the foreign affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said that because Israel is a democracy, we expect a higher standard from it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (John Gummer) similarly said that because Israel is a state, we expect a higher standard from it. The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), who belongs to the Scottish National Party, said that Israel is a democratic state and should be judged by a higher standard. What is this if not moral relativism?

 

If we wish to condemn one side or another in a terrible conflict such as this, we must apply similar standards of morality to each side. We must not say that because one side in the conflict is a state or a democracy, it is unacceptable for it to overreact to terrorism, but because the other side is not a state or a democracy it is less morally reprehensible for it to embark on terrorism in the first place.

 

My view is that Arabs have consistently tried, over many years, to destroy Israel and, since 1967 at least, Israelis have consistently tried to colonise occupied Arab territory. After 1967, the Israelis were in a position – had they wished to be magnanimous – to conclude peace settlements with their erstwhile enemies. They were not magnanimous and when Sadat successfully launched the Yom Kippur war in 1973, it was an opportunity for the Arab nations to regain some self-respect and to negotiate realistically with the Israelis to bring about peace. Sadat and Begin seized the opportunity after 1973 and, as was said earlier, Sadat – whom I regard as one of the heroes of the history of the Middle East conflict – paid with his life for his foresight, generosity and courage.

 

The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Marsha Singh) claimed that nobody supports the suicide bombers. Tell that to the people who organise telethons in Saudi Arabia to raise vast sums for the relatives of those bombers. It is a fact – alluded to previously in the debate and not, as far as I know, denied – that many of the suicide bomb attacks have been carried out by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. That body is directly linked to Fatah, and there is little doubt that it would not continue those terrible activities if Yasser Arafat were not willing for it to do so.

 

There is an example of the support for the suicide bombers in an article published as recently as 1 April in the Saudi press – in a Government-controlled daily called Al-Jazirah. It says of the Passover bomber:  

"May Allah have mercy upon you ... mujaheed and martyr, the quiet hero who infiltrated so elegantly and spoke so gaily. You defended your religion, your homeland, and your people. You attached no importance to any Arab summit; you did not wait for international agreements; you did not follow television interviews; you did not pause because of dead Arab and international reactions that neither help nor hinder." 

The article uses similar words to describe the supermarket bomber, a young teenage girl. It states: 

"May Allah have mercy on you ... You left your home for the path of martyrdom and Paradise. Your family knew not where you were headed, and knew not that you had chosen the way of martyrdom. There was nothing to stop you ... You proceeded with a determination, will, and strength rarely found, even impossible to find, in a 16 year-old girl." 

The article concludes by asking that Allah and the angels welcome both of them as religious martyrs and beseeches Allah to give them  

"the highest level of Paradise". 

Is it only Sharon who is the cause of the present situation? Many people have chosen to load him with all the guilt and to say that he is why the present situation is so disastrous. Only yesterday, however, The Times published an article written by Ehud Barak himself. He said of the missed opportunity at Camp David that the Arab states and Yasser Arafat had been offered  

"a contiguous and independent Palestinian state, over more than 90 per cent. of the West Bank." 

This is Barak speaking – not Sharon the extremist. He said:  

"Mr Arafat refused even to take it as a basis for negotiations and turned deliberately to terror. To reward this is like feeding a crocodile – it only increases its appetite." 

Mr Barak's view of Mr Arafat is as follows: 

"Mr Arafat does not envision a Palestinian state alongside Israel but a Palestinian state instead of Israel, and now he tries to dictate it by dispatching brainwashed human missiles to commit suicide and murder civilians." 

That is the moderate voice of Israel speaking, not the extremist. 

Several right hon. and hon. Members asked what drives a teenage girl to blow herself up and murder innocent civilians. The suggestion was that it is a form of desperation, caused by the Palestinians' plight. Yet, no one said anything like that about the suicide hijackers of 11 September – when the reasons were truly given: hatred, brainwashing and religious-based fanaticism. If the House applies one standard to Palestinian terrorism and another to the terrorists of 11 September, it will forfeit the right to be taken seriously on this life and death issue.