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Thursday, 29 May 2003
Page: 15536


Mr HUNT (12:08 PM) —I rise to lend my support, as do many others, to those parties of good faith within the Middle East who are working towards reconciliation between the Israeli and Arab populations. There have been a number of decisively important steps taken over the last two weeks. However, I want to address a broader context first.

The question of terror within the Middle East, which now, through the actions of al-Qaeda, spreads beyond the Middle East, derives its source from three points of origin. Firstly, you have an external genesis. That is that the Middle East conflict between Arabs and Israelis spreads throughout the Middle East. It has an impact of poisoning goodwill, it has an impact on the sense of self and it creates an anger and frustration in people on both sides. Secondly, you have an internal problem within each of the Arab states—states with a rich cultural tradition, although most are new states. The problem here is the lack of a democratic framework. The lack of democratisation through either elections or free speech means there is unresolved frustration and tension. As many authors have noted, this takes the form of seeking an outlet through violent action. Because of the absence of democratic freedoms within the Arab countries, there is a significant problem.

That leads to the third source of terror: the notion that there are sponsors that are willing to play on this. Firstly we have Syria; secondly, until recently, we had Iraq; and, thirdly, we know that Iran has played a role. In Syria we have a country which is largely unreconstructed. It maintains its links and continues its actions of support for terrorism. That has to cease. In Iraq there has been a change of government and, as the Prime Minister has said, there is a very real chance that the road to peace in the Middle East will start in Baghdad. In Iran we see a country struggling with its history—a country which has competing forces at present between those who are reforming and those who would sponsor terrorism. That battle is a challenging one and one in which we have to support and give courage to those who are working towards having Iran play a constructive role within the world.

Developments in the Middle East over the last few weeks have been extraordinarily positive in terms of the Arab-Israeli dialogue. On both sides there are people of good faith who need to be encouraged. On the Palestinian side, the new Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, or Abu Mazen, has already indicated his willingness to adopt the road map for peace. He does this not just at the risk of political vilification but also at the risk of losing his life. This is a man of considerable courage who should be rewarded, recognised and supported for the steps he has taken in moving the peace process forward.

On the other side, we have also seen a very important development within the Israeli government over the last two weeks. We have a provisional acceptance from Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, of the road map for peace and with that the critical recognition that there must be a two-state solution—a state for Israel behind secure borders with a secure future and recognition and a state for the Palestinian people. I have lived and worked within Israel and Palestine. I have seen the conditions the Palestinian people have endured, and they too deserve their own state and are entitled to and have a right to that. The acceptance by Ariel Sharon of the road map for peace has been an extraordinary step forward, and this in turn has been echoed within the cabinet, which has accepted that road map.

I commend the Palestinian leadership under Abu Mazen and I commend the Israeli cabinet under Ariel Sharon which has, significantly, taken a great step forward. These are promising steps. My own belief—and it is more than just a hope—is that by 2006 we will have a two-state solution; but in the meantime we need to lend all our support and encouragement to those of good faith on both sides.