Mike Gapes made a time limited six minute speech in the debate today about the crisis in Gaza today. This is what he said:
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), and I agree very strongly with what he said. He referred to Northern Ireland, and one of the lessons of that conflict is that sometimes one needs channels for engagement with people. That need will not always arise at times of one’s own choosing, but such channels are a necessary preparation for political solutions later on.
One of the tragedies of the situation today is that everything could have been so different after the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005. The Foreign Affairs Committee went to Gaza in December 2005: we drove from north to south, and we were able to see the greenhouses left behind by the settlers after they had left, and to get to the Rafah crossing. We saw the controls that were in operation there, and they were a bit like the controls at an airport terminal. The Italian carabinieri were in charge, and police officers from Romania and Denmark were working with them as part of the EU mission to Gaza. They were all performing a very important role. Coaches would arrive from Egypt, and people would get off and go through the Rafah crossing. Their bags would be checked and scanned, and sometimes goods would be held back because they were being proposed for sale or importation illegally. Those goods could be collected later.
Families were being reunited at that time. The House must understand that, for many years, the town of Rafah had expanded into Egypt, with the result that families had members on both sides of the crossing. As a senior Israeli politician who was in London this week told me, many of the tunnels in the area run from a family’s home on one side of the crossing to its home on the other side. The tunnels were used to bring food through, as well as weapons of all kinds. Those weapons included things from Iran via Yemen and Sudan, which presumably came through Egypt before being sent through the tunnels.
The circumstances of what is happening in Rafah today are very different, because of the closure of Gaza and the incidents that have taken place. It is not only after the breakdown of the latest ceasefire that we can talk about people dying: in 2006, more than 680 Palestinians and more than 20 Israelis were killed as a result of the continuation of the conflict.
The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, got engaged, briefly and actively, in trying to work out a channel with regard to the Philadelphia corridor. There were further breakdowns but finally the ceasefire was agreed that lasted for six months between June and December last year. I do not have time to go into all the circumstances of how that broke down, but it is clear that, even before the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1860, we needed a ceasefire to stop the conflict in Gaza and the deterioration that will follow.
In the past week, we have seen the impotence of the international community, which the general public around the world do not understand. They believe that our Government and other Governments must be able to do something to stop the fighting. They see pictures of the horror every night on their televisions, and they do not understand why it continues.
Yet the conflict in Gaza is not the only one going on in the world. Today, as part of the civil war in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan army is bombarding areas in the north-east and killing many people—but we are not seeing that because the television cameras are not there. Only members of the Tamil community in this country and a few others are really engaged with what is going on in Sri Lanka.
Mr. MacNeil: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mike Gapes: I am afraid I do not have time.
Killing is still going on in Darfur and in Congo. The international community needs to engage and to be more active. We hope that when President Obama comes to office on Tuesday, he can make a difference, but let us not be misled. He is not a miracle worker. It will take sustained engagement—sustained engagement by the United States, unlike the disasters of the past eight years, when there has been sporadic engagement from time to time.
We will also have to make sure that the Arab world takes a more responsible attitude to a solution to the conflict. We need a comprehensive agreement between Israel and its neighbours. We need a two-state solution. Reference has already been made to Syria, and Egypt has a key role in providing the guarantees for security to allow the opening up of Gaza for trade with Israel and with Egypt—the opening up of those borders, but the prevention of the weapons coming in.
The British people, and particularly many of our young Muslim people, are very angry. We need a political solution now.
posted 15 January 2009