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2006-07-07 19:16

  The Prime Minister Tony Blair has made a statement to Parliament on the current situation in the Middle East. On the crisis in the region, Mr Blair said:

  “It is hard to overstate the dangers or the potential for this conflict to impact far beyond the region itself. It is indeed a genuine crisis, and one on which all of us, in whatever way we can, small or large, have a duty to act.”

  With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement following my discussions with President Bush in Crawford Texas. Normally, an informal bilateral meeting would not be the subject of a statement. Exceptionally, because of the situation in the Middle East, I thought it right to come to this House and give Honourable Members a more extended chance to put questions than Prime Minister's Questions affords.

  Of course at Crawford we discussed many issues, including bilateral relations, trade issues, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, Russia and NATO, Africa, and energy policy. I am very willing to answer questions on these issues. But it is on the Middle East that I will concentrate. My RHF the Leader of the House will also deal with this issue in the usual way in tomorrow's business statement, and there will be a further opportunity for debate next week.

  Mr Speaker, there are many situations, both at home and abroad, which are called a crisis when in truth they are not. In this case, it is hard to overstate the dangers or the potential for this conflict to impact far beyond the region itself. It is indeed a genuine crisis, and one on which all of us, in whatever way we can, small or large, have a duty to act.

  In the past few days, I have discussed the situation not just with President Bush, but also with President Putin, President Mubarak, President Chirac, Prime Minister Jospin, Prime Minister Aznar, and others. I look forward to discussing it in depth with Chancellor Schroder of Germany this weekend. And my RHF the Foreign Secretary has been in constant contact with his counterparts.

  Nobody who has been following recent events on TV could fail to recognise not only the seriousness of the situation, but also the scale of human suffering.

  In the past fortnight, there have been at least 55 deaths in 6 suicide bombings in Israel. Just this morning, at least eight people died in a suicide attack on a bus near Haifa.

  And in the West Bank, at least 230 Palestinians and 34 Israelis have died.

  Over 1500 Palestinians have been injured. A million Palestinians live under curfew.

  There have been terrible human tragedies on both sides. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims, whether Israeli or Palestinian: the two Israeli women who went with their families to a cafe in Haifa and lost their husbands and children in an appalling suicide bomb attack; the Palestinian bell-ringer of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem who was shot and killed in Manger Square; the 12 year old Palestinian boy who went out when the curfew was lifted to buy some milk and never returned - he too was shot and killed.

  And amidst the suffering, there appears to be no strategy to end it, therefore no hope.

  Mr Speaker, both sides must see that violence is not and never will be the answer. The solution to this crisis will never be reached if it is seen purely as a security or military question. There must be a political process too.

  I believe the whole House will welcome President Bush's statement last week calling on the Israelis to withdraw from the Occupied Territories, and the Palestinian Authority to tackle the terrorism. Without these basic minimum steps, and without a proper cease-fire which sticks, we cannot even begin to get a political process re-started.

  What can be done?

  In summary, I can tell the House that we are taking the following steps:

  we are in close touch with the Israelis and the Palestinians, with the United States, with our European Union Partners, and with Governments in the Arab World in the urgent search for a way of stopping the bloodshed and getting a political process restarted.

  we shall be seeking a UN Security Council Resolution, based on Crown Prince Abdullah's plan, to promote such a process, following Secretary of State Powell's visit to the region this weekend.

  we stand ready to help with monitoring, both of detainees, and of a ceasefire when one is established. I am convinced that this is a role that the European Union is well placed to undertake.

  we are also ready, together with our European Partners, to help the Palestinian Authority rebuild the infrastructure of the West Bank and Gaza, and work with them, too, in reconstituting their administrative structures. We are also ready to help them establish an accountable and transparent security structure that can cooperate with the Israelis and the wider international community to ensure peace and security in a Palestinian State and so underpin the stability of the region.

  In respect of stability in the region, a word on Iraq. Mr. Speaker, there will be many occasions on which to debate Saddam Hussein's flagrant breach of successive UN Resolutions on his weapons of mass destruction. For the moment, let me say this. Saddam Hussein's regime is despicable. He is developing weapons of mass destruction and we cannot leave him doing so unchecked. He is a threat to his own people and to the region, and if allowed to develop these weapons a threat to us also.

  Doing nothing is not an option. As I said in my speech in Texas, what the international community should do through the UN is challenge Saddam to let the inspectors back in without restriction: any one, any place, any time. If he really has nothing to hide, let him prove it.

  I repeat, however, no decisions on action have been taken. Our way of proceeding should be and will be measured, calm and thought through. When judgements are made, I shall ensure the House has a full opportunity to debate them.

  Returning to the more pressing matter of Israel and Palestine, Mr Speaker, at some point both sides will realise that no matter how much blood is shed, no matter how many lives are wasted, Israel will still be there and the Palestinian Authority will still be there.

  The initiative of Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, agreed by the Arab nations, is based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 1397. It is the only realistic basis for a solution - land for peace. The Israelis must allow a state of Palestine, secure in its own borders. And in exchange the Palestinians and the whole Arab world must recognise and respect Israel's borders.

  A UNSCR restating these principles with firm international backing is the best way forward politically.

  Mr Speaker, the House will know that in the region, particularly from the Israelis, there is much hostility to the idea of outside intervention. But the sad, simple truth is that the hatreds are too deep, and the wounds too raw, for the two sides to be able to resolve this alone. The US is right to be engaged and to press both sides to change, and I am clear after my visit to the US for talks with President Bush that the focus and engagement that is required will be forthcoming. Colin Powell's visit to the region is welcome evidence of that.

  Mr Speaker, both sides have heard many words of condemnation, and I do not need to add to them here. I understand the anger of the Palestinians who see the steady encroachment of Israeli settlers who take their land from them in defiance of international law and successive UN Security Council Resolutions. This must stop.

  But so must the appalling suicide bombings that have taken so many Israeli lives in the past few months. Palestinians have supporters the world over for their cause, but that support is weakened every time the suicide bombers act. Chairman Arafat must speak to his people and do everything in his power to stop these murderous outrages.

  Both sides know what needs to be done and they should get on and do it. Now. Real leadership is tested by the tough decisions, not the easy words.

  No matter how strong the feelings, no matter how deep the hatreds, now is the time to pull back, to stop, to realise that the current strategy is going nowhere; that the time for violence is over, and the time to get a peace process going is overdue. The international community is ready to help. People the world over are willing us to do so. Whatever we can do to help, we will.

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