Created: 17 March 2011
In light of the ever evolving developments in the Middle East, Bob used his time in the chamber to speak on this issue.
"The situation in the Middle East and North Africa is the most challenging and tumultuous for more than 30 years. Our Foreign Office team face a great challenge in dealing with countries emerging from dictatorships that, for whatever reasons, Governments of both political persuasions have had to make deals and arrangements with. As a result, the people who have rebelled against those dictators have a natural distrust of Britain, the United States and other western powers. The challenge for our foreign policy, as we develop it over the next few weeks and months, is to ensure that it embraces the people who will be forming the next Governments in these countries.
I believe that Iran's Government have had a long-standing aim to be the central, dominating power in the region. Western policy used to be that Iraq and Iran balanced each other out. As colleagues know, more people were killed in the wars between Iraq and Iran than in the First World War; both sides sacrificed their personnel by throwing them against each other. When our country joined the US in invading Iraq, we unbalanced the position, and now we have an Iranian state that wishes to pursue the nuclear option and to dominate the region. I was shocked when I heard that Iranian battleships had been allowed to use the Suez Canal for the first time. It will start to make all countries in the region nervous about Iran's intentions, so we should make representations to the new Egyptian Government to ensure that they do not allow Iran that free and unfettered access. The fear is that it will unbalance the countries in the region that we count on as allies.
Much of the debate on North Africa has been about Libya, yet we forget Tunisia, which depends on visitors. People there are suffering because the economy is shot to pieces, and it needs to rebuild and encourage visitors, yet people remain deterred from visiting. As a result, unemployment is high and the economy is in a state of shock. That needs to change.
My next remarks will concentrate on the situation in Israel and Palestine. Israel faces a challenge to develop a two-state solution with Palestine-a solution I wholeheartedly support-but on the northern border Hezbollah, armed by Iran, is preparing once again for a potential attack on Israel. The Israelis say it is only a matter of time before there is another war between them and Hezbollah, which could trigger other events. We have to put pressure on Iran to stop it arming Hezbollah in order to prevent those attacks.
On the west bank, the economy is growing well-it is developing far better than the British economy. Fatah and the Palestinian Authority are ready and willing to become a proper democratic state, yet in Gaza Hamas refuses to take part in elections. In this fledgling democracy, the party ruling Gaza refuses to participate in elections, so does not have a renewed mandate. We need to put pressure on the PA and Hamas to agree on elections, so that we can have a democracy under the PA that can negotiate with Israel.
Finally, on the situation in Israel, those who go to see Jerusalem will know that the security barrier has stopped suicide bombings and other attacks on Israelis and Arabs in Jerusalem, and that has to be good news. Although the security barrier looks unacceptable to the outside world, it has clearly solved the security problem. I look forward to the day when that security barrier is dismantled and all the people of Israel and Palestine can coalesce together. That is the challenge.
I will end with the issue that I raised in Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions earlier this week. The murder of the Fogel family in Itamar has made it much harder for Prime Minister Netanyahu to drive forward the peaceful settlement that we all seek. What we need to get across to the terrorists in Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad is that their activities will never, ever succeed. They need to participate in a peaceful process leading to the two-state solution so that everyone can thrive."
To read the debate in full, follow this link: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debate/?id=2011-03-17a.574.0