Iraq War

Clive Efford (Eltham): I want to say how much I appreciated the opening comments of the Prime Minister. I welcome his respect for the views of all those who have strong feelings on this matter. When Parliament was recalled last September, I tabled an early-day motion making my position clear. 

I have not moved from that position one jot. This is a challenging time for Members of Parliament and we have a heavy task in front of us in this debate. However, I have never been clearer in my mind about my position. Many people in the country feel that the inspectors have not been given time to complete their task in dealing with weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I say to my right hon. Friends that, at this time, I fundamentally disagree with the military action that they intend to take.

Much has been made of the road map for Palestine. In the aftermath of 11 September, many people rushed to make statements on how the Palestinian issue and the middle east peace process were central to resolving the long-term problems at the heart of the cause of the tragedy that occurred, and the atrocities that were committed, that day. However, people are right to stop and take stock of what is being proposed with the road map. For me, it may not be too little, but it is certainly too late. The US may be sincere in what it says about the road map but, coming at this late stage, it smacks too much of political expediency. I have no doubt that pressure from this House has led to the road map at this late stage.

I understand something about road maps from my previous profession: the obvious route is not always the best way to get to one’s destination. I do not say that to trivialise the matter. I sincerely believe that this House still has a significant role to play in ensuring that we reach the destination that we all want in terms of the middle east peace process, but it is not just a question of the views of this House, and it never has been. It is about how people in the middle east view the west and how we pursue our foreign policies and about learning the lessons of 11 September. It is about our not continuing to be, through the way in which we pursue our foreign policies, recruiting agents for Osama bin Laden and other terrorist organisations. I say to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) that it is not an attack on Saddam Hussein that will be the recruiting agent, but the double standards that have been applied in relation to the rush to deal with Saddam Hussein at this stage and the approach taken to resolution 242, which has sat on the table for 35 years and has not been dealt with.

After 11 September, many people made the case for dealing with the middle east peace process to secure the peace for the long term. We understand the importance of ending the occupation of Palestinian territories, ending the plight of Palestinian people in their own land and stopping settlements that are in direct breach of United Nations resolutions on Palestinian territory. If we are to develop a new world order, we have to address those issues in tandem with the issue of weapons of mass destruction.

Much has been made of the use of the veto at the UN, but we are not all innocent in that respect. In the past 30 years, the United States has vetoed 34 resolutions concerning Israel. The veto has been used 250 times, in more than 40 per cent. of cases in relation to issues involving the middle east. Only this week, we have seen yet another attack in Gaza, where 10 people were killed, including a four-year-old child. Even in the days after 11 September, people were attacked and killed by Israeli forces in Jenin and Jericho. I have to ask whether that is the action of a country that recognises the weight of the issues involved in the tragedy that occurred on 11 September or its role in securing long-term peace. We need to find a way forward. How do we get those people to follow the route map set out by the United States and our Government? How do we convince Arab people of our sincerity? What guarantee is there that after this conflict is over the road map will not be lost?

The USA provides $2.1 billion of aid every year to Israel. Only last October, there was a request for another $10 billion of aid because the intifada has hit its economy and almost cut it in half. Just by threatening to cross a nought off the end of that aid, we could bring Israel seriously to the negotiating table and sort out the problem once and for all. We need more time and we need to deal with the issues in parallel. If we are to convince the wider world community of our sincerity, why not give the inspectors more time to deal with Iraq in tandem with sealing, progressing and following the route map that has been set out in terms of Israel?

The stakes involved are too high for failure. The UN is right to challenge the USA. For too long, the USA has been able to say to the United Nations, “Jump”, and the United Nations has said, “How high?” The UN is absolutely right in this new world order to question whether it should jump in terms of the timing of any action that should be taken. I do not support what France has done during the past week—its actions have hastened the deadline for war—nor do I support its attempt to create a European axis against the United States in a new world order.

The UN is ours, faults and all. It is the route by which we should decide that in future we will negotiate away these difficult situations without the need to resort to military action. The Prime Minister said in his opening statement that the UN should be the focus of diplomacy and of action. I agree. If we are to win the peace for my children and for future generations of children, we have to go back to the UN and give it more time.

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