§ 3.44 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. George Brown)
One of the newspapers opened its leader this morning with a remark that it would be a considerable—1 think it said notable—amount of self-restraint if we left the word "Suez" out of our speeches. Without going quite so far as that, I wish to say to the House that the situation in the Middle East, while looking less tense than it looked at the weekend, is nevertheless still very highly charged. If, at the end of this debate, we have left the general temperature at least no higher than it is as we find it, I think that that will be a sufficient compensation for any dullness there is in our speeches during the day.
For most of what I have to say, and no doubt in the debate which will follow, we shall be discussing the situation between the Arab countries and Israel, but I want right at the start to remind the House that the political, economic and strategic interests of too many countries are involved in the Middle East for it to be other than extremely difficult for a war, once started in that area, to be confined to the countries immediately concerned. If we are to get the present Arab-Israel crisis in perspective we must see it in a wider context.
It is indeed true that this greater risk of war which we face today stems not so much from any increased enmity between Israel and the Arab States—bad though that is—not so much from any failure of the United Nations in precipitously withdrawing the United Nations force, but from the fact that into this area over quite some time now there have been pouring vast quantities of guns, armour and aircraft, not for the purposes of the local conflicts within the area, but for purposes of changing the global balance of power.
That is why it must be the basis of what I have to say that, even though we are now talking mainly about the Arab-Israel dispute, and ways of preventing that flaring up, it would be a bold man who would say that just to settle today's immediate problems would remove the continuing risk of war in that area.
103 Having said that, and despite the startling suddenness with which the crisis blew up, behind it is the intractable and longstanding dispute between the Arab countries and the State of Israel.
It is 20 years since the United Nations first tried to tackle this problem. Despite many efforts, it has not been possible to find a permanent settlement; but, even so, it is here that the United Nations has more than anywhere else in the world been able to play a vital and constructive rôle in keeping the fires damped.
From 1957 until a year or so ago, there had been no serious flare-ups. In the South, between Egypt and Israel, the United Nations Emergency Force provided a buffer between the two sides, so that there have been almost no incidents. It also kept a detachment at Sharm el Sheikh on the tip of the Sinai peninsula.
It was on the basis of the understanding that the detachment would remain there, and on the basis of firm declarations that there would be free passage for ships into the Gulf of Aqaba, that the Israelis finally withdrew their forces from Sinai in early 1957.
On the armistice lines elsewhere, there were more incidents, but the United Nations Chief of Staff, with the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organisation and its corps of observers, worked hard and with considerable success to keep the temperature down.
Over the past year or so, however, a new and more dangerous pattern of incidents emerged: groups of terrorists, infiltrated into Israel, have placed explosives on roads, bridges, railway lines. The amount of damage and the loss of life have not been great, but they have caused the Israel Government, in their turn, to mount retaliatory action against the territory of neighbouring countries from which they have come.
We have always made clear our view that the Governments concerned have a duty to prevent the mounting of attacks from their territory against their neighbours; that it is inexcusable to disown responsibility for the attacks, and even more inexcusable to praise publicly their perpetrators, as the Syrians have done. But we have always made equally clear 104 to Israel our view that retaliation was not the right answer and that it was dangerous because one could never know where it would end.
Unfortunately, in the Security Council, the highest organ of the United Nations charged with the maintenance of peace, there has been a frustrating situation. We and others have tried to avoid partisanship, to pass judgments of cases on their merits in the light of the evidence supplied by the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organisation, and to get all parties to co-operate in preserving the peace. The Soviet attitude has, however, been different. Twenty years ago they supported the resolution in the General Assembly which led to the creation of Israel. In 1955, however, they switched their policy—one can hardly avoid saying, cynically—and they have since then been wholly one-sided in their action and in their behaviour. When the Israel Government are at fault, they are rightly criticised in the Security Council, and a resolution embodying that criticism can be passed. When an Arab Government are at fault the Soviet veto is used against any resolution criticising that Government.
For example, last autumn, when the Israel Government took to the Security Council a complaint about a terrorist raid in the north of Israel, no action ensued. Soon after that the Israel Government mounted an attack on the Jordanian village of Samu and we strongly and publicly criticised their action at the time as unjustified and inexpedient, and in this case the Security Council passed a condemnatory resolution. Clearly, there has been no equity in this situation, this double approach.
This pattern of incidents and retaliation has continued this year. The Secretary-General of the United Nations tried to calm the situation by using the machinery of the Israel-Syria Mixed Armistice Commission which had until then been boycotted for many years by Israel. We supported him fully in this initiative. The Commission met on several occasions, but despite the efforts of the Commission terrorist attacks in Israel were renewed. After an incident in the demilitarised zone south of Lake Tiberias, in early April, Israel attacked Syrian defensive positions from the air. 105 In purely military terms, this action appeared to be successful, but the danger of escalation in all this was clearly patent. Apart from the usual propaganda machine, it should be recognised that during this period the United Arab Republic, despite the fact that it came under attack from other Arab States, nevertheless acted with notable restraint. About the middle of May Israeli leaders spoke strongly of the latest incursions from Syria and warned that they could not continue to tolerate them.
Perhaps on account of these statements it became widely, but, according to our information, erroneously, believed that some large-scale attack on Syria was imminent. It was then, on 14th and 15th May, that the Government of the United Arab Republic started to take large and ostentatious military precautions. On 16th May they took the very grave step of demanding the withdrawal of the United Nations Emergency Force. I have already spoken of the rôle of this force and will refer to it again in a moment if I may. It was set up in 1956 to supervise the withdrawal of the Anglo-French and Israeli forces from Egyptian territory. It had remained on the Sinai frontier ever since as a buffer between Israel and the United Arab Republic.
There will, no doubt, be endless legal argument about the juridical position of President Nasser's action, but, in my view, this is not the point. One can sympathise with the Secretary-General confronted with that demand, but it cannot be right that when a fire is known to be imminent the fire brigade should be ordered to depart.
Not only that, but there are wider implications. Even if the U.N.E.F. has not been the sole reason for the relative quiet which has been maintained over the past 10 years, nevertheless it has obviously played a very large part in it, and has shown what can be done by the United Nations in peacekeeping. But to remove the force in this way was bound to cast doubt on the credibility of such efforts elsewhere, and, thereby, risk intensifying other problems and other tensions in other parts of the world.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell) rose—
§ Mr. Brown
May I go on a bit, perhaps?
106 Nevertheless, the decision was taken, and the Secretary-General decided, without consultation with the appropriate organs of the United Nations, that he had to accept the withdrawal of the force. This action clearly altered the whole situation in a very important and material respect.
Having achieved this result, possibly with unexpected ease, President Nasser announced on 22nd May that, following the removal of the U.N.E.F. detachment from Sharm el Sheikh, his Government intended to close the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships, and to the carriage of strategic goods to Israel.
There are two serious aspects to this. In the first place, the Israel Government declared as long ago as 1957 that they would regard interference with their shipping as an aggressive act entitling them to take measures of self-defence under Article 51 of the Charter. There was, therefore, grave risk of a military conflict arising out of this situation. But, secondly, there was a wider aspect. This is not a matter which concerns only Israel and the United Arab Republic. It is also a matter of direct concern to all maritime nations interested in the unfettered movement of peaceful shipping in all parts of the world.
Our delegate to the General Assembly in 1957 declared thatthe Straits of Tiran must be regarded as an international waterway, through which the vessels of all nations have a right of passage.He went on:Her Majesty's Government will assert this right on behalf of all British shipping, and they are prepared to join with others to secure general recognition of this right.Other delegates made similar, in some cases even stronger, declarations. Incidentally, some of those declarations make very interesting reading now, and Members may care to look at them. They are contained in the official records of the United Nations General Assembly (XI Session Plenary Meetings 1956–57, Volume 2), which is available in the Library. As the House knows, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reaffirmed the Government's position in similar terms on this subject last week.
This is not just an arguable legal matter. It carries great political and 107 economic consequences. Its repercussions could affect the rights of navigation in many parts of the world, including, be it noted, some of the maritime exits from the Soviet Union.
It is worth noting just in passing that this decision was announced while the Secretary-General of the United Nations was actually on his way to Cairo to discuss with the United Arab Republic Government means of dealing with the grave situation which had arisen.
As the House knows, I went to Moscow at that very time, and during my talks with Russian leaders I was convinced that the Soviet Government, despite their public statements and their very one-sided approach, were, in fact, very concerned about the Middle East situation and very anxious to help to prevent it from getting out of hand.
I made clear to them the importance we attach to immediate steps to get restraint observed by those in the area and the need to use any time thus gained to find acceptable solutions to the problems created, especially that of navigation in the Gulf of Aqaba.
I also took the opportunity when giving an open, public lecture in Moscow—one of the few opportunities yet granted to a representative of a Western Power—to make the same point in public. This is what I said:Your country is a very great power. This is a fact. It imposes on you great responsibilities. In particular, it imposes the responsibility of using that power to see that peace of the world is maintained. To discharge this requires both restraint and creative imagination. I ask you to approach the situation in the Middle East with this responsibility in mind.As members of the United Nations, we, together with the other permanent members of the Security Council, including, as I have said, the Soviet Union, welcomed the admission of Israel. We must continue to try to find some way in which Israel can live without fear of her neighbours and her neighbours can live without fear of Israel. This is just as much a Russian responsibility as it is for any of the other countries of the world.
At the same time, the French Government proposed that there should be discussions between the United States, U.S.S.R., France and Britain to seek a solution to this problem. We for our part 108 warmly welcomed this proposal and so informed the three other Governments. However, I regret to tell the House that the Soviet Government have declined to take part in such discussions.
In all this background there has been some discussion of the Tripartite Declaration of 1950. I explained Her Majesty's Government's attitude to this Declaration in answer to a Parliamentary Question on 19th December last, and the position remains unchanged since then. The Declaration was a statement made by three Governments about their intentions with regard to the supply of arms to the area. It also declared their opposition to the use of force in the area and their intention to take such action as they thought fit if force were used or if there were a threat of force. At that time the three Governments concerned were virtually the only suppliers of arms to the area and Britain herself had forces in several countries in the area.
The situation has entirely changed since that date. We do not now claim to play any special rôle in the Arab/Israel dispute. As a permanent member of the Security Council, Her Majesty's Government have a duty to support efforts to keep the peace everywhere; we are deeply concerned with peace and stability in the Middle East, and we have, of course, important national interests there. But we regard the United Nations as primarily responsible for peacekeeping. I am in these words paraphrasing what was said by the then Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Macmillan, in 1963, and reaffirmed by my right hon. Friend the present Prime Minister.
These, then, are the recent events and some of the considerations against which we have had to decide the course of our own actions. But our actions have not only to match the events of this particular crisis as it develops. They have to fit into the broader setting of our Middle East policy as a whole.
Our interests in the Middle East, notably those affecting our trade and our investment, as elsewhere, depend on the maintenance of conditions in which peaceful and orderly development in the area can proceed. There are some areas of the Middle East where we can contribute directly to the maintenance of these conditions. The Persian Gulf is a 109 clear example where our contribution has been both crucial and successful.
South Arabia presents, on the other hand, a more complicated and difficult example, but there, too, we are still striving to find the basis for these conditions; and I do not despair of eventual success. But we shall be debating that subject separately on another occasion.
There are two persistent features of the Middle East situation which threaten this peaceful and orderly development. They are the bitter hostility of the Arabs towards Israel and the deep-seated division within the Arab world. As I said earlier, there is also the extent to which others from outside are intervening in the situation. We deplore these conflicts and have no wish to take sides in them. But since they dominate so much of the Middle East scene, as recent events have demonstrated, I should like to state clearly our attitude to each of them in turn.
I do not want to be drawn into the endless argument about the rights and wrongs of the termination of the Palestine mandate and the creation of the State of Israel. It was certainly not a happy experience for this country.
But all that was a long time ago. It is a matter of great regret that it has not been possible to heal the wounds from those days and to make a final peace settlement. We understand the feelings of the Arab peoples on this subject; and as a major contributor to U.N.R.R.A. we are acutely aware of the problem of the Palestinian refugees. We would like to see a fair and full settlement of that whole problem.
But, having said that, the State of Israel has now been a member of the United Nations for nearly 20 years, recognised by most Governments of the world, and the Soviet Union were among the very first to do so. Two and a half million people live in Israel. This fact cannot now be ignored and recognising this cannot reasonably be attacked as "taking sides in an Arab/Israel dispute".
We trade with Israel, as we trade with her Arab neighbours. We have friendly relations with the Israel Government, as we have, or wish to have, friendly relations with all her Arab neighbours.
In the same way, we do not seek either to be involved in or to encourage the 110 dispute which has been dividing the Arab countries into two hostile camps. In our relations with the Arab countries we desire to develop our connections and our relations with the Arab States, of whatever political complexion, to recall and continue our participation not only in their attainment of freedom, but also to further the achievements of constructive Arab nationalism.
I recognise in Arab nationalism one of the most significant forces for change in the Middle East today. I have striven, for instance, to make an ally of it in South Arabia, and, despite setbacks, I shall continue to strive for that.
But, equally, I recognise that no one party, no one country, and no one group of countries, has a monopoly of Arab nationalism. It is at least as strong a driving force in those who seek for peaceful change as in those who seek to pursue their aims by methods of violence.
We must not fall into the trap of regarding, or allowing others to regard, our Middle East policy as a struggle to the death between ourselves and President Nasser. I got to know President Nasser over a long period of years, and I have a high regard for him. At the same time, I am not blind to his errors. I believe that he has long been following a profoundly wrong course in South Arabia, and I believe that in the last two weeks he rashly adopted a policy in the Middle East which could endanger, not only himself and his country, but the peace of the whole world.
We are not setting out—to use the colloquialism—to "topple Nasser", as hon. Members opposite once foolishly attempted to do. But neither are we prepared to accept that he has the right to topple another Middle Eastern nation at the risk of plunging us all into war.
Against this background, our aim in this present crisis, it seems to me, must be to prevent the confrontation which now exists from bursting into a conflagration, and to seek with others a negotiated settlement achieved by peaceful means. There are many possible solutions by which the Gulf of Aqaba might be kept open on terms which both Israel and Egypt could reasonably be asked to accept; and any solution must also satisfy our own interests and those of other maritime nations concerned with shipping in those seas.
111 I am under no illusions about the difficulties either of maintaining the peace or of achieving out of it such a just and equitable settlement. Neither must we, in my view, necessarily confine our efforts to achieving it to only one forum. We must pursue our objective by every diplomatic means available to us. Clearly, the most appropriate and, ultimately, were it available, the best way to work for this settlement would be within the machinery of the United Nations.
Despite all the setbacks which the United Nations has received, the Charter does set out the basic principles which should govern the policies and actions of nations. Moreover, the main purpose of the Charter is to guarantee the integrity of all members of the United Nations, both great and small, and, just at this moment, a small country, the State of Israel, is being threatened.
We are proud of being a founder member of the United Nations and of being one of the permanent members of the Security Council. We believe that the strength and development of this great organisation are essential to world peace. In the Middle East, the area which is now so disturbed, the men of the United Nations Emergency Force have made a real contribution to preserving peace for nearly a decade. I make no apology for returning to this, as I think that it is worth dwelling on it for a moment. Their sudden removal symbolises the crisis that has so suddenly broken upon us.
Here was a military force with men from Yugoslavia, India, Canada and the Scandinavian countries which had worked together as a team and was probably the best United Nations peacekeeping force that had ever existed. Its disappearance is, at once, a sharp blow to the United Nations and to international law and order.
I must emphasise again that the removal of the United Nations Emergency Force at a moment when it was most needed was one of the most serious aspects of this whole business. The United Nations could play a tremendous rôle in peacekeeping. Until its members can agree among themselves as to how this is to be done—and here the Security Council has an absolutely vital part to play—the rule of law in the world will be gravely jeopardised.
112 We welcomed the initiative of U Thant in going to Cairo, and his report draws attention to all the dangers of the present situation, including the explosive position in the Gulf. It makes various proposals for remedies. What is most needed now is a breathing space to enable these proposals to be fully considered and to enable the United Nations to exercise its unique rôle as a conciliator.
In this moderating rôle it must urge conciliation on both sides, on the Egyptians and on the Israelis. It is in order to gain this breathing space that Lord Caradon and others are working so hard at the present time to get support for a resolution in the Security Council which urges restraint and conciliation.
The Secretary-General referred in his report to the need for all concerned toexercise special restraint, to forgo belligerence and to avoid all other actions which could increase tension".We would consider as acts of belligerence any unilateral act to close to the Gulf of Aqaba or any acts of aggression committed by either side on the Israel-Arab border.
The main task of the United Nations is, in fact, to work hard to reduce tension on both sides and, if that is possible, to secure a reduction in the forces which have now gathered on all the frontiers.
Once this conciliation and thinning-out process gets under way, there will be an urgent need for some new form of United Nations presence which would help to keep the two sides apart, as U.N.E.F. did during the last 10 years.
Such a United Nations presence might take many forms. It could grow out of the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organisation, which played an important rôle on the Egyptian-Israeli frontier before it was succeeded by U.N.E.F. It might be some entirely new body. Whatever form emerges, I believe that the Secretary-General should in any case send his personal representative to the area to help with the task of conciliation. I hope that U Thant will be able to find somebody of real political stature and experience to carry out this very difficult task.
I am sure that the responsibilities of any new United Nations body should extend to both sides of the frontier so as to be, to that extent, independent of any one of the countries concerned. The Israelis 113 have, unwisely, in my view, rejected this in the past, and we have made our view inescapably clear to them in the last few days. These are the kinds of directions in which we think the United Nations must continue to work
Our policy, as I have said, is to work in the United Nations and through the United Nations. But, at the end of the day, the United Nations is only the sum of its members, and there are clear limitations on it at this moment.
Speaking for ourselves, we could not be satisfied with a situation in which a numerical majority in New York are satisfied with an inequitable settlement which will merely ensure that an Arab-Israel war is inevitable sooner or later. Therefore, we have not confined our diplomatic activity to New York. We have also been in touch, both directly and through our Ambassadors, with other Governments in their own capitals.
Although we should not make the mistake of assuming that there are not other grave dangers which could spark off a war, nevertheless, as I have said, the centre of the present crisis seems pretty clearly to be the Gulf of Aqaba. The immediate crucial problem is freedom of navigation there. We are, therefore, in the closest touch with other maritime countries which share with us a vital interest in the freedom of the seas.
We have explained our own position to these other Governments. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at Margate on 24th May, this is still as it was in 1957—that the Straits of Tiran must be regarded as an international waterway through which the vessels of all nations have a right of passage. As he also said:Her Majesty's Government will assert this right on behalf of all British shipping and is prepared to join with others to secure a general recognition of this right.Our recent diplomatic exchanges have shown that many other countries, as in 1957, share our views on this right of free passage. We are now discussing with them what we and they can do together to assert this right and to secure its general recognition. My noble friend Lord Caradon has already publicly stated our position in the Security Council of the United Nations. But we cannot be sure that the Security Council will be able to agree on a clear and unequivocal 114 statement of the position as we and others see it.
We have, therefore, decided to consult other like-minded nations about the issuing of a clear declaration by the international maritime community that the Gulf of Aqaba is an international waterway into which and through which the vessels of all nations have a right of passage. Such a declaration, whether in an outside or a United Nations forum—preferable as the latter would be—would, I believe, have a substantive part to play in maintaining and prolonging the restraint which at present enables peace to be held in the area.
By so doing, it would give us the extra time to try to find the longer-term solutions about the use of the Gulf—including possibly a special convention enshrining its status, as applies to some other international waterways. But we must, of course, face the fact that action in the United Nations, or declarations made by nations outside the United Nations, may not be enough to secure the right of innocent passage to which we and all maritime nations attach such importance.
It goes without saying that we certainly hope that they will. I trust that it also goes without saying that we shall use every diplomatic effort to see that they do. But we would be failing in our duty if we were not now consulting others concerned about the situation that would arise if these initiatives I have outlined were to fail.
During the last week, while the House was in Recess, the Middle East moved close to the brink of war. Only those of us who were involved deeply in the events of last weekend know how close we came to seeing acts of war from which the waves of destruction might have spread out to engulf us all. Through the efforts of several countries, including, I am proud to say, our own, this horror was averted.
But although none of the countries of the Middle East has yet stepped over the brink, the abyss remains. Time is desperately short. Unless the international community shoulders fully its responsibilities and asserts itself to secure quickly a just and equitable settlement, a crisis more grave and threatening will inevitably be upon us. To avert this, I pledge the untiring diplomatic efforts of this country.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Bexley)
The House greatly appreciates the fact that the Government have arranged this debate on the first day after the House has reassembled and, in particular, before the Prime Minister leaves for his discussions with the Prime Minister of Canada and the President of the United States. As the Foreign Secretary has said, we are debating a situation which has arisen in the Middle East during the Recess. This is not the debate on Aden, which is still to come—although it is to some extent impossible to separate entirely the situation in Aden from the remainder of the situation in the Middle East.
I am sure that the Foreign Secretary was quite right to emphasise in his speech the gravity of the present situation. I believe that what we are debating is without doubt potentially the most dangerous international situation since Cuba—much more dangerous than the Indo-Pakistan conflict, unpleasant though that was, because the interests of other Powers were not directly involved in that conflict.
In some ways, I think, this situation is more dangerous even than the war in Vietnam. This, in my view, is because, in South-East Asia, the forces of the Powers involved are, to a considerable extent, under control and every step, though involving risk, can be carefully weighed before it is taken. Indeed, this proved to be true of Cuba, where there was a direct confrontation between the two super Powers, but where there was always a means of communication between them.
The situation in the Middle East today is quite different. The forces involved are not under any direct control of the major Powers, who may themselves become involved. This seems to me to be the root of the immense danger which exists at the moment. There are dangers that raids and counter-raids—for example, by the Palestine Liberation Army from the Gaza Strip—will, now that the United Nations Emergency Force has been removed, escalate into war. There is the danger of provocation leading to counteraction and then full-scale conflict. There is the danger that, in desperation at the ineffectiveness of international action in the face of an economic blockade, Israel will decide to "go it alone".
116 The Foreign Secretary has made a very important statement in his definition of belligerence and aggression, in which he said that any attempt to block the Straits would be a belligerent act. This, of course, is an immensely important statement in relation to any action which followed the unblocking of the Straits by Israel in the event of no international action having been taken.
Surely, one of the problems in the Middle East is always what is the definition of "aggression". This has become one of the fundamental problems about the implementation of the Tripartite Declaration—although the right hon. Gentleman has made it clear that, as far as Britain is concerned, the Declaration is not in force.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned another point in connection with the definition on which I would like to press him further. Perhaps the Prime Minister can amplify. As I understood him, the Foreign Secretary said that the Government would not be able to accept a majority at New York in the United Nations which meant an inequitable settlement. It must be the judgment of the Government whether a settlement is inequitable, or whether a resolution is inequitable. Therefore, in certain circumstances, the Government would find themselves having to reject such a settlement, which would presumably mean the use of the veto or a decision not to carry out a resolution of the United Nations. This is a very important statement. It may well prove to be justified, but, if it is possible in the present situation, I would like the Prime Minister to amplify the statement.
§ Mr. George Brown
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be replying later, but I would not want any misunderstanding to arise. The words I used were "We could not be satisfied with a situation in which a numerical majority are satisfied", etc., etc. That means that, if such a situation were to come about, we would have to find ways and means of trying to improve upon it. That is different from the words the right hon. Gentleman has used, which said that we could not accept, etc.
§ Mr. Heath
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary. This is an important 117 statement from which serious consequences could follow. When he says "etc. etc." he is presumably referring to an inequitable settlement and, therefore, if the judgment of the Government were that a settlement was not just, they would have to take further action to bring about a just settlement.
There is another danger which we cannot ignore in the present situation. It is that "President Nasser and the Arab countries will come to believe that having got rid of the U.N. Emergency Force, completed their own build-up—now very substantial—secured Soviet support, in public at any rate, and with Great Britain apparently in the process of withdrawing from certain Middle East commitments and the United States preoccupied in South-East Asia, this is the moment when they should finally attempt to liquidate the State of Israel from the Middle East. I do not believe that this is a danger which in the present heady atmosphere can be entirely ignored. Therefore, these are the very real dangers of the present situation which the Foreign Secretary was absolutely right to emphasise throughout his speech.
There is one further all-important fact. In this explosive situation both the United States and the Soviet Union appear to have very firm commitments, the United States to the territorial integrity of the countries of the Middle East. As I understand the President's declaration, it is a singular form of the Tripartite Declaration. In addition, there is the United States commitment to freedom of access to the Gulf of Aqaba. The Soviet Union has commitments to Syria and the United Arab Republic. If I am incorrect in this, perhaps the Prime Minister will correct me when he winds up the debate, but perhaps otherwise he can confirm that these are the present commitments of the United States and the Soviet Union in the Middle East.
These commitments lead to the most dangerous situation of all. The two greatest Powers involved are not in direct confrontation, as at Cuba or over Berlin, but indirectly through forces over which their control is much more remote and much more limited. It is right, therefore—and I agree with the Foreign Secretary—that, first and foremost, every pressure must be brought to bear on the countries of the Middle East to exercise restraint. 118 That has been done by the United States, by the Secretary-General, by Lord Caradon at the United Nations, and it may have been done by the Soviet Union itself.
If a conflict breaks out, not only is there the risk of the major Powers becoming involved, but there will also be grave damage to the Arab countries as well as to Israel. In particular—and this is a point which has been somewhat overlooked—Jordan, to which we no longer have any commitments, is now in the unhappy position of having both Iraqi and Saudi forces on her soil and with the new defence agreement King Hussein may very well find it much more difficult to hold back in any conflict which breaks out, with the consequent temptation, which we have always feared and which may prove almost irresistible for the Israelis to move up to the bank of the Jordan. This is another very serious aspect of any conflict which may break out. There is the danger, of course, to the oil pipelines and the danger in some countries of nationalisation of the oil companies and the expropriation of their property, and for Britain there is the danger of the removal of a substantial quantity of sterling deposits.
This is surely a formidable catalogue of the risks which are confronting so many countries because of the situation in the Middle East. The question is: what has brought this crisis about? At the beginning of his speech, the Foreign Secretary said that it was a long build-up. The Syrians alleged that the Israelis were about to attack and that the Israeli forces were mustered. I know of no evidence for that and I was very glad to hear the Foreign Secretary's confirmation that there was no evidence. The Secretary-General stated that that was the view of the U.N.T.S.O. general and he set it out fairly in his report. Nor do I know of any evidence—and the Foreign Secretary gave none—that the Israelis threatened to eliminate Syria.
It is true, as the Foreign Secretary described, that in April there were incidents between more aggressive Syrians and retaliation from Israel, but there was no evidence produced of an impending conflict of heavy forces being mustered to make an attack. But the fact that President Nasser wanted to move his forces in Sinai up to the Israeli frontier in 119 support of his ally Syria seems to have been the main justification for the request for the removal of the United Nations force.
The fact that the justification did not really exist is bound to make one ask what was the motivation for withdrawing that force. Whether President Nasser expected the withdrawal to take place, or whether he made the request as a bluff to show willing to his ally, expecting to be refused, we do not know; nor do we know what would have happened had he been refused. That we cannot know, because the United Nations force was at once withdrawn.
The House has already shown, in response to what the Foreign Secretary said, that it regards the withdrawal of the force as a most extraordinary incident. When I was at the Foreign Office, with my right hon. Friend, we supported the election of U Thant. I have always supported him personally both at the Foreign Office and since. I have great admiration for him and happy personal relations with him. But the United Nations force was set up by the Assembly in November, 1956. Although the location was negotiated by Mr. Hammarskjöld in 1957, the force was set up by the Assembly itself.
It was said that it was necessary to withdraw the force. Having studied the resolutions and the aide memoire, I am not entirely convinced that that was so. Even if it were necessary to withdraw it in the circumstances, how can it have been right to agree to accede to its withdrawal straightaway without taking the matter to the Security Council or to the Assembly, to alert them to the situation which would arise following the withdrawal of the force and to enable them to take action to deal with the situation while the withdrawal was taking place? To me, it is entirely incomprehensible. I believe that the force should never have been withdrawn without putting the matter to the Security Council or the Assembly. I fear that its withdrawal was a major error of judgment.
However, five things have flowed from it. First, it has exposed the Middle East to a much greater risk of conflict. Secondly, it has enabled the Gulf of Aqabato be closed. Thirdly, it has undermined the confidence of Israel which, for 10 years, 120 has been brought to believe that the United Nations was its main security. This was an invaluable asset to have gained after 1956 and that asset has now been lost. Fourthly, it has given President Nasser personally an immense increase in prestige because of the way in which the force was withdrawn.
The consequences can already be very clearly seen. The other Arab States have already had to make adjustments to their policy, whether they wished to do so or not. The King of Jordan, in what is really an attempt to save his throne, has had to make a defence treaty which will give the U.A.R. much greater influence in Jordan. Kuwait has had to send troops. These are the consequences of a rapid readjustment of policy. Let us assume that a conflict is avoided. Then, as a result of the withdrawal of the force, the influence of the U.A.R. will increase right along the Gulf and down to the tip of Southern Arabia. These are very grave consequences to follow from the removal of the force.
Fifthly, it has brought into question the position of United Nations forces elsewhere, as the Foreign Secretary has said, and perhaps I can be more specific where the Foreign Secretary has to be more guarded and mention Cyprus, in particular. In the terms of the resolution, the position of the United Nations Force in Cyprus is negotiated with the consent of Archbishop Makarios. If the same interpretation were to be put on an immediate request by Archbishop Makarios as was placed on this, without consultation with the Assembly or with the Security Council, on his own understanding the Secretary-General would withdraw that force. I should like the Government to make it plain that they will now state at the United Nations that there will be no change in the status of that force in Cyprus until the matter has been debated, if there should be a request, in the Security Council or in the Assembly.
Quite rightly, the Foreign Secretary asked himself what, in this situation, were British interests. I should like to confirm some of them and perhaps add others. First, I believe that the British interest is to have good relations with both the Arab countries and Israel. We cannot accept that it must be a choice of one or the other. As a country, we 121 can never accept that. As a nation, we have worked very closely with the Arabs. We have helped to create Arab States in the same way as we helped to create Israel. When I was at the Foreign Office I worked closely with Arab leaders as well as with Israeli leaders.
What is more, I have never believed that it is impossible to establish reasonable relations with President Nasser and the U.A.R. I know that the Foreign Secretary has set his heart on doing that, and I do not quarrel with him in that respect. But I believe that it can be done on only one basis, which is for Britain to make it clear what British interests are in the Middle East and the commitments which we accept, and that we shall adhere to them, and that we have the means to carry them out. If we do that, then I believe that President Nasser will respect it. If the position is made absolutely clear, I believe that is possible. I do not believe that British interests and genuine U.A.R. interests are incompatible. Indeed, I believe that the interests sometimes are the same.
Therefore, may I say, in passing, because I have no wish to be controversial, that I believe that the weakness of the present position in trying to establish relations of this kind is Aden, since it appears that a power vacuum has been created there, and, wherever there is a power vacuum in the Middle East, President Nasser has no alternative but to step in. I believe that Aden is now the weak link in the whole of the Government's policy in the Middle East and in trying to establish reasonable relations.
Secondly, Britain has a general interest in the peace of the area, not only because of the danger of being dragged in to a much wider conflict but because of our investments and commercial interests there. Oil is still important, though less important than it was; let us recognise that. But, with the exception of the Gulf States, we no longer have direct commitments in the Middle East.
The Foreign Secretary made a remark which I was very glad to hear. He said that we are able to carry out certain obligations in the Middle East. He defined the Gulf area as the place where we can do it. He said that we have had a crucial and successful part to play in the Middle East. I agree with him entirely. I was very glad to hear him, as 122 Foreign Secretary, say it. It is of interest to note that we were able to do it because of the agreement which we negotiated with Kuwait in June, 1961, which entirely respected the independence of Kuwait. Kuwait then became a member of the United Nations. We were once called upon to carry out our obligations, which we did successfully. When that was seen, the effort was never required again. I believe that the same thing could have been done in Aden. Therefore, we look to the United Nations to take action in cases of conflict other than those specific commitments which we have.
Thirdly, Britain, as a maritime Power, has an interest, together with other maritime Powers, in the freedom of navigation. The Foreign Secretary quoted the statement which we made as a Government in 1957. I am glad that it has been endorsed by the present Government. Freedom of access to the Gulf of Aqaba was maintained until a fortnight ago by the United Nations. Therefore, it must surely believe in freedom of access. It must be a fundamental belief of the United Nations.
We look to the United Nations, and we are entitled to do so, to reinstitute it. It is interesting to go back to Hammarskjold's aide memoire to see that he said at the time that no question of belligerent rights should in future arise after the settlement of 1957. Surely the Government are entitled to say to the United Nations that they should still adhere to the recommendation of the then Secretary-General on which the general settlement was based.
But what happens if the United Nations fails to take action? The Foreign Secretary has clearly faced that question. He has said that he would attempt to get a clear declaration by the maritime Powers of the position. This is to be welcomed. He is in consultation with other maritime Powers now. What steps are to be taken by the maritime Powers in order, to use the phrase, "to exert their rights"? The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister must realise that this is the key to the whole question. I do not press the right hon. Gentleman on it at this point. It would be wrong to press him in the debate. But he knows only too well that, first, there must be no delay and, secondly, that the House 123 looks to the Government to take the necessary action to ensure that this declaration is implemented if necessary.
I return to the very serious general situation. At the moment, the peace, if it can be described as such, is precarious and can be shortlived. It will last for only a limited time. Restraint will be exercised in the Middle East only for a limited time unless results which, in the Foreign Secretary's words, are equitable, can be produced. It is difficult to be optimistic about the outcome of the Security Council. There has been much criticism of the first meeting called by the Canadians and Danes. I believe that the first meeting was absolutely justified to alert the world to the situation which was arising. I wish that it had been called much earlier.
It would be best if U.N.E.F. could be reinstated—no doubt that is the Foreign Secretary's view—and extended to the other Arab-Israeli frontiers. I agree with him in urging the Israelis to accept part of it on their own side of the frontier, or, perhaps less good, to strengthen the Truce Supervisory Organisation and its subsidiaries and extend it to the Egyptian-Israeli border.
But we must face the fact that it is difficult to see President Nasser accepting U.N.E.F. again, or accepting a force of that nature. The Truce Supervisory Organisation would not be dealing, nor would a force on the frontiers alone, with Sharm el Sheikh and the Straits of Tiran. Therefore, there must be a separate solution of that problem, which should, if possible, be negotiated. Even if the Powers make their declaration and implement it, it cannot be a long-term solution. There must be finally a negotiated answer to the problem of the Straits of Tiran and Sharm el Sheikh.
If the United Nations Security Council does not produce a solution, what then? I was glad that the Government accepted the proposal of a four-Power conference. I regret that the Soviet Union rejected it. But, although there cannot be a formal conference, there can be informal discussions between the four major Powers at the United Nations as a location in an attempt to get a settlement of the Middle East problems. It may well be that the French, who have succeeded in maintaining good relations 124 with both the Arabs and Israelis, have a particular part to play in this. But, certainly, Her Majesty's Government should be able to play their part in a four-Power conference in a confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States.
It is possible—I got a glimmer of this from the Foreign Secretary's opening remarks—that the Soviet Union will see the danger of conflicts between forces outside their own control and, therefore, will want a negotiated settlement. Perhaps the right course is to try to lift the problem from the immediate though very important detailed questions of the Straits of Tiran and the Gaza Strip to the higher level of the whole of the Middle Eastern problems between the Arab countries and Israel. It might be that in this way there would be a better chance of getting a negotiated solution to deal with the problems which concern Britain.
I would not think of putting forward details in a debate of this kind, because they can be worked out only after soundings at somewhere like New York, where there can be constant discussions between the Powers concerned. But it may be right to lead it to the higher level of world problems and not limit it to the Middle East. When the two super Powers are involved in problems across the world, it may be possible to settle more than one of them by taking them together.
At first sight, this may appear to be vastly ambitious. But, on the other hand, by raising the whole level of discussion it may prove easier between the two super Powers to get a general negotiated settlement. Only if the Soviet Union is involved is Soviet pressure likely to be brought to bear on the U.A.R. to reach a settlement which the Foreign Secretary will be able to accept as equitable. Only if the United States is involved will there be a balance in the negotiation which is likely to produce a settlement of any kind.
We have been discussing—these are my final words; I do not wish to be too long—the immediate questions of the freedom of navigation, the attempt to strangle a small country economically and the risk of conflict between Arab and Jew. There are, however, two much bigger questions which are fundamental and remain to be answered. The first is whether this will develop into the attempt to wipe out Israel once and for 125 all. Surely, the United Nations, which recognised Israel at once, and the Powers which helped to create Israel, cannot possibly allow a small independent country to be eliminated by those surrounding her.
There is, secondly, the question whether this is an attempt to extend Soviet influence throughout the Middle East and down to the lip of Southern Arabia. That was the fear which I felt in the opening sentences of the Foreign Secretary's speech today. He indicated that this was but the end or a stage in a very long build-up of arms, presumably by the Soviet Union to the Middle Eastern countries in order to establish her own influence.
If that is the real threat, again it is only the United States which has the paramount part to play in this situation. That we must recognise. I urge Her Majesty's Government to support the United States in seeking a negotiated settlement for a more permanent peace in the whole of the Middle East, as well as for maintaining the rights of the maritime Powers and the existence of small countries, whether Israel or Jordan, and to keep them, if they can, free from the Soviet influence and domination which. the Foreign Secretary has indicated today, we have every right to fear.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on the tone and temper of the speech which he has made today and on the practical proposals which he has put forward. He will, I hope, forgive me if later I add some further suggestions about the action which we might take.
Long years ago, I had a strange introduction to the problems of the Middle East. At the Peace Conference in Paris in 1919, I was converted to Zionism by Lawrence of Arabia and the Emir Feisal. I was head of the League of Nations section in the British delegation. A Cambridge friend, Eric Forbes Adam, was head of the mandate section negotiating the Palestine Mandate with Dr. Weizmann. I found it hard to think that a Jewish National Home could be imposed on an Arab country. I thought that the Mandate would be a millstone around the shoulders of the League.
126 At last, Forbes Adam made me meet Lawrence and the Emir Feisal. They said: "Yes, we want the Jews in Palestine. We want them to come. In race, we are cousins. They will bring us capital, brains and knowledge. Together with their experts, we will make our desert countries blossom like the rose."
Until the slump of 1929, it worked as the Emir had predicted. But in 1929 there came mass unemployment. The world markets for Israeli exports dried up. Hitler and Mussolini trained saboteurs to stir up trouble and to wreck the splendid works which the Zionists had built up.
For nearly 40 years the Israelis have had Arab enmity added to the other vast difficulties which they have had to face. And yet they beat them all. They have made a country that is the admiration of the world. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, it would be an irreparable loss—and, above all, to their Arab neighbours—if the State of Israel should disappear. Yet that is precisely what we may be facing now.
The Israelis are 3 million against 50 million; 250,000 troops against half a million; 800 tanks against 1,800. And Israel has other handicaps which, perhaps, are worse. Many in the world remember that in 1956, under the lamentable encouragement of France and Britain, she launched a war against the United Arab Republic. Israel refused to have the United Nations forces on Israeli soil. She broke up the U.N.'s Mixed Armistice Commission. And, alas, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said, the Arabs have long-standing and bitter grievances against her, which she has made no real effort to put right.
I want to argue, as did my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, that from the present grave crisis a real and lasting settlement should be made, and that another temporary truce in the conflict is most emphatically not enough.
A real settlement seems Utopian today. Nasser has been using dangerous, unforgivable language. James Cameron reports from Tel Aviv that there is not a soul in Israel who is not convinced that war must come. Israel's Foreign Minister, the wise and clever Mr. Abba Eban, says that "every sacrifice" to keep the Strait of Tiran open must be made— 127 "alone if we must, with others if we can."
Of course, the rights of Israel in Tiran must be upheld. I want, however, to consider what would be the cost to Israel of war over Tiran. What would be the cost in relation to the trade which passes through Eilat? It is a tiny port; there is no railway; and only 200,000 tons of shipping come there every year. The oil that comes through Eilat is less than 10 per cent. of the Israeli needs. It is costing Israel £70 million a week to keep her forces mobilised. How long would it require Eilat's trade to balance, to make good, that appalling loss? The trade of Eilat for a generation would not make up for the loss involved in a single week of war. If war begins, the oil from Iraq stops and it may never flow again.
I repeat that, of course, the rights of Israel in Tiran must be upheld. I warmly support what the Foreign Secretary said about a united declaration by the nations of what he called the maritime community." But I suggest also something more. I think that it would be surprising if President Nasser refused a request for an advisory opinion from the International Court. He offered to send the question of the Suez Canal to the Court in 1956. If the Security Council does not now ask for an advisory opinion, if Russia should obstruct it, the Assembly can ask, by a simple majority, that it be done.
The Court set a very useful precedent about the Strait of Corfu, when the Labour Government sent their claims against Albania to the Court in 1947.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am obliged to the hon. Member. I was just about to say that we have never had the money which the Court awarded for the damage to our ships. Since 1947, however, I believe that it is true to say that the right to use the Strait has never once been challenged.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing indicated assent.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
That might well happen again if we got an advisory opinion from the Court about Tiran. While I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about a declaration by the 128 maritime community on the Straits of Tiran, which I think is strong and wise action, we should also demand with all our energy that the Court shall give its verdict, too.
§ Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
I appreciate the point which my right hon. Friend is making, but does he realise where Israel is standing at present, does he realise the forces surrounding Israel, and does he think that any reference to the Court at this stage, after the definite statements which have been made by Nasser and others in respect of the right of passage through the Straits, would have any point and that Israel or any other country could wait for a verdict of that description?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
My hon. Friend is learned in the law. I cannot believe that it would not be wise for us to have a ruling by the Court in favour of the rights of Israel. I have said that I support a declaration by the maritime community which the Foreign Secretary proposes, but I maintain that it would be wise also to take the course which I have proposed.
The United Nations should do that at once. It should also persuade the Israeli Government to reactivate the Israel-U.A.R. Mixed Armistice Tribunal, for which the U.A.R. delegate asked in the Security Council on Monday of this week. As the Foreign Secretary said, certainly we should still strive to interpose some United Nations screen, on both sides of the border, by one of the devices which he suggested, between the forces of Israel and her Arab neighbours. If I understood my right hon. Friend, the Israeli Prime Minister in a speech in the Knesset last week seemed belatedly to propose something of that kind. Certainly, the U.N. Council should, with all its authority, endorse the Secretary-General's warning that any act of force by any party will be a violation of Charter law.
Suppose all this succeeds and war is averted. Is that enough? I echo the Foreign Secretary. In this present crisis, surely we can see that it is not enough to patch up a fragile truce, as the United Nations did in 1947 and again in 1956. What is needed now in everyone's interests—in the interests of Israel, of the Arabs and of the world—is to establish a solid and a lasting peace. That means concessions by Israel and by the Arabs.
129 I take what in my opinion are the two most important points.
The Arabs claim that Eilat and the Israeli strip of coast were seized by the Israeli Army in 1947 in violation of the United Nations partition plan, and after it had been agreed and signed. According to their London spokesman in a letter to The Times on Monday, they call this… an example of Israeli military expansionist policy in defiance of the U.N. rule.I believe that that view can be upheld in history and in law, but is it all—
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to a reply which appears in The Times Magazine today, pointing out that Egypt never held this portion of land? In fact, it was taken from Jordan, and the armistice withdrawal was signed 14 days later, so that it was not done after the armistice with Egypt.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am very well aware of that point, but it seems not to affect the argument which I am trying to make. I am saying that, even if the Arab argument can be upheld in history and in law, is that all that the Arabs should consider now?
Looked at in terms of 20th century commonsense, it is in the overriding interest of the Arabs, as the Emir Feisal told me so long ago, that Israel should prosper. Israel will prosper better if she has an outlet to the East, as will Jordan and the U.A.R. I believe that that is something which should mutually be agreed in a real settlement.
My second example is on the other side. It was referred to by the Foreign Secretary. I quote again from the letter written to The Times by the Arab spokesman in London:Israel, by acts of force, had rendered the 1.5 million Arab inhabitants of Palestine as homeless refugees. It has arrogantly and persistently defied the U.N. over their repatriation and compensation for nearly 20 years. This human tragedy is the real cause of tension and danger to world peace in the Middle East.I believe that he is right and that this human tragedy is the basic cause of the fear and hatred which, on both sides, now exist.
British responsibility is great. We invented the Balfour Declaration. We made 130 the Jewish National Home. We held the Mandate for nearly 30 years. When we gave it up, we had the duty to save those whom we had governed from the fate of homeless refugees. If the Middle East is ever to know peace, the problem must be solved. It would pay the West to provide a fund of £100 million to try to get real justice for these unhappy men. It would pay Israel to make a great and generous effort to try to meet their grievance and wipe out the bitter memories of the last 20 years—
§ Sir B. Janner
Does my right hon. Friend not realise that these refugees have been held on the border in a most uncivilised and disgraceful manner and that there were not anything like the present number at first? Does he realise, further, that they themselves left Israel when their people were attacking Israeli people?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am fully aware of that, and my hon. Friend knows of my love and admiration for the Israeli people which I have shown over the decades since the Jewish home was first established. However, whatever the rights and wrongs on either side, I believe that Israel should now help to try to solve the problem which we face.
Much could be done by Western capital invested in the future of these refugees, who, with training and with skills, could go to other Arab countries and a new future and a new life which would be valuable to them and to the world.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
The Middle East requires a great new start, and it must be made through the Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations. But if it is to be made, the Governments will have to change the way in which they have used the U.N. up till now. It is hard to call on Nasser to respect the Charter, if it has been broken by greater powers at Suez, in Hungary, in Laos, at the Bay of Pigs, in Santo Domingo and in Vietnam. Law ceases to be law when the strong and powerful consistently set it aside.
It is in these events that we can find the real causes of the crisis in the Middle East today, and restoring the binding force of the United Nations Charter is the first and greatest of our problems now.
131 Second, I say to my right hon. Friend that he cannot just call in the United Nations to stop a war at the last desperate moment, when the shooting is about to start. The Israeli crisis has not taken us unawares. I offer some random headlines from the Press. The Times of 16th November, 1966, said:Israel accuses Syria of plotting Arab War.On 20th November, the Sunday Times said:Israel's attack on Jordan jolts Middle East to Left".On 21st November, 1966, The Times said, "Jordan Wants Sanctions", and on 22nd January, 1967, the following headline appeared in The Times:Shots fired across Syria border with Israel. Damascus alleges attack.Why did not the Governments, why did not our Government, which has so great a stake in Middle Eastern oil, take some major action to stop this drift to crisis, which began at least nine months ago? I know that there have been sporadic meetings of the Security Council, and that we have told our Ambassadors to urge restraint. There have been patched-up resolutions in the Council to get us round an awkward corner, even if they lead us nowhere when we are round.
With respect, that is not how the U.N. was meant to work. The Council was to be the meeting place of the Ministers with power, the Foreign Ministers who carry authority at home and in the world. The meetings were to go on, not at odd intervals, but day by day, or week by week, as they did in 1946 when Ernest Bevin and Secretary Byrnes used the Council to get the Russian Army out of Northern Iran.
I venture to suggest a course of action to the Foreign Secretary, to supplement the admirable proposals which he has made. I believe that he would do well to go himself, without delay, to the Security Council; to invite the Foreign Ministers of other members to do the same; and to make it plain that he will stay there one week, two weeks, three weeks, whatever is required, to sort out the issue. There is nothing so important that he can do. I think that he should ask the parties to state their case on every matter in dispute, and that he and other members should probe and argue every question that is brought up. Their de- 132 clared object should be that of which my right hon. Friend has spoken, a long-term settlement and peace.
All that should be done in public in the Council. Delegates speak far more responsibly, they quarrel less, and it is easier for them to yield to argument and to make concessions, when discussions are held in public, than when they are held in private. This is why Lord Robert Cecil said in the League Assembly long ago:Publicity is the life-blood of the League.It has been proved a hundred times in the last half century that that is true.
Some hon. Members may think it a paradox, but I believe that nothing could so calm the fierce hysteria of the Israeli and the Arab peoples as the searching, sustained, top-level, international debate which I have described. And after that debate—and here I elaborate on something which my right hon. Friend suggested—I believe that the Council would do well to adopt the procedure successfully followed when the Council stopped the war between the Indonesians and the Dutch in 1948.
The Council should appoint a U.N. Commission of distinguished, impartial and experienced men to visit all the parties, to probe the history and the facts, and to put forward recommendations to the Council for a lasting settlement to be made. The Commission need not consist of more than four or five people. It could include such men as Halvard Lange, for twenty years Foreign Minister of Norway; perhaps the ex-President of India, if he would serve; Senator Henri Rolin of Belgium—men known throughout the world for their ability and their integrity. A plan prepared by men such as these might well transform the situation, and make it far easier for the Foreign Secretary at future meetings of the Council to bring the full success which seems so Utopian today. Let us be quite clear. Soon, or late, the alternative to a real settlement is war, with all the lasting devastation it would bring, and perhaps, though the world should certainly prevent it, but it might happen, the death of Israel as well.
The Middle East is only part of the general world crisis—in that I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. What is happening now 133 would not have happened if in Cuba, Santo Domingo and Vietnam the Charter had not been set aside. We must rehabilitate the Charter. We must reactivate not only the Mixed Armistice Tribunal, but the whole of the U.N. as well.
We can do much ourselves. I believe that the time has come to apply to Aden the UN. procedure which I have suggested for the Middle East. I believe that for far too long we have sought to settle the Aden problem by ourselves. It is an international question, affecting many nations, of the kind for which the United Nations institutions were set up. So is Vietnam. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have made great efforts, by private pressures, to bring the conflict to an end.
But there is only one power in the world that can do it, the power of the public opinion of all the nations in all the continents, voiced in a resolution of the General Assembly of the U.N. It is for questions such as these, which threaten small wars or major wars, that the U.N. institutions were set up. If we fail to use their full resources we abandon the attempt to bring law and order into world affairs.
Let me try to summarise what I have said. Brotherhood between the Arabs and Israelis is still the highest interest of them both. Only the U.N. can bring about this great result. The U.N. should not be called in to solve disputes at the last moment before the guns begin to speak. It must be used, and fully used, as soon as dangerous tension first appears. It can only give its right results if the leading spokesmen of its members, the men with power, play their full and personal part.
It is in the U.N. Council and Assembly that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary can do most to restore law and order to our near-anarchic world. They promised, when they took office, that they would do it. Let them count the man-days which senior members of the Government have spent in the institutions of the U.N. since 1964. Let them count the days which senior Ministers have spent in N.A.T.O., CENTO, S.E.A.T.O., or talking in foreign capitals about the Common Market. Let them count the days which they have spent 134 in the White House and in the Kremlin. I believe that, in some measure, they have sacrificed their finest platform and failed to use the greatest instrument they have for good. Europe is important. But Israel, Aden, Vietnam, the arms race, and the agony of the hungry nations, are the survival of mankind.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
The House will be grateful to the Foreign Secretary for a very balanced analysis and the temperate speech with which he opened the debate. If I may say so without appearing to be patronising, because such is not my intention, I think that in moments of crisis that is the sort of speech which one expects from a Foreign Secretary. That was the sort of speech which he gave us and for which we are very grateful.
I agree wholeheartedly with the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that the decision to bring about a peremptory withdrawal of the United Nations Emergency Force was an error of judgment on the part of the Secretary-General, and this tragedy is seen in all the greater perspective when one considers the very valuable work which the U.N. has done in the area.
Anyone who has seen U.N.R.W.A. working in the refugee camps in the Arab countries and anyone who has seen U.N.T.S.O. in action along the borders with Israel cannot but realise the tremendous achievement which the United Nations has to its credit in that part of the world.
The right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) has a long and distinguished record of support for the United Nations and, before it, the League of Nations. But I believe that we can fall into the great danger of making such meticulous use of the machinery as in the end to frustrate the spirit of the Charter. I have no doubt that the reference to the International Court would be a protracted operation, and that during the currency of those hearings a preventive war could well break out by Israel itself. I will give way to the right hon. Member if I have misquoted him. I appreciate that he put forward other practical suggestions, such 135 as the attendance of the Foreign secretary in the Security Council and the dispatch of a high-powered commission of international statesmen. I accept that, but I suggest that it is in no way a derogation of one's support for the United Nations merely to point out the danger of over-reliance upon [machinery and under-reliance upon operating in the spirit of the Charter.
One of the great difficulties is the series of imponderable motives which we have to deal with in this situation. When, on 17th May, President Nasser called upon U Thant to remove the United Nations force, what was the motive in his mind? Was it to re-establish his supremacy in the Arab world? We know that the Islamic League had been regarded by him as a competitor for the affections of the Arab States. We know that for a long time relations with Tunisia had been strained, and that certainly the war on the broadcasting ether, was intense with Jordan. We know that after the 7th April attack by Israel, Syria was extremely critical of Egypt for not going to her defence, and also that many Arab countries, not least Saudi Arabia, were critical of the presence of 50,000 Egyptian troops in the Yemen, and also of some of the methods used in that terrible war.
Alternatively, was it something more? Had we reached a situation in which Nasser felt that if he was strategically strong enough to wipe out the State of Israel, and thereby revenge the defeats of 1956? Or was it, perhaps, the motive of Soviet Russia to compensate for her loss of prestige in the Far East by asserting her own supremacy in the Middle East at very little cost to herself? If the latter, the visit of Mr. Gromyko to Cairo at Easter takes on a new and very sinister connotation. If it was merely the first—the political objective of re-establishing supremacy—have events gone too quickly and got out of control as far as Nasser is concerned?
Nasser may well have wanted a political gain, but was he prepared to risk the commitment of the United States Sixth Fleet and a possible confrontation between Russia and the United States of America? We do not know, but we have to consider these imponderable motives and, so to speak, operate on 136 all three in order to consider what political settlement can be brought about.
Certain factors are not in dispute. First, this action could not have happened without Russian support. To what extent we do not know, but certainly there must have been some Russian support—and certainly complete Russian knowledge.
Secondly, this is the one policy that is capable of uniting the whole Arab world. It is the only factor in the whole of the Middle East which can unite the Arab countries.
Thirdly, although very grave threats have been made against Britain and any other country that goes to the assistance of Israel in regard to oil supplies, and about the future of the Suez Canal, the Arab world should bear in mind the fact that although it would be a very grave economic setback to be deprived of Middle Eastern Oil supplies and to have to rely perhaps solely on Africa, Venezuela and the Gulf and, possibly, Iran, on the other side of the coin the Arab world has to find a continuing supply of oil customers. Therefore it is a two-edged weapon.
Certainly the dependence in 1956 on oil from the Middle East is nowhere as great today, with the establishment of larger oil tankers and alternative sources of supply. Likewise, whilst the tolls from the Suez Canal accounted for only 4 per cent. of the gross national product of Eygpt, the closing of the Canal or, alternatively, a boycott by canal users would isolate Egypt more politically from the rest of the world than she would care to contemplate. Therefore, whatever the rights and wrongs, the Arab world should realise that the threats it is making today against the western world and others are just as grave in their political and economic consequences to the Arab world itself as they are to those they seek to threaten. If anything they are graver.
If the declared object of the Arab world is to destroy Israel—and I believe that this is genuinely the feeling in Cairo at the moment; certainly it is believed in Israel at the moment—we must realise that so far there has been a staggering forbearance by the State of Israel. I do not believe that we can count on that forbearance for more than two or three further weeks. The political position of 137 the Eshkol Government would be completely untenable. Therefore, it is all the more vital that there should be a swift diplomatic initiative and that the political position of this country, America and others should be made crystal clear.
There is no question but that the longer the delay the weaker the position of Israel and the more powerful that of the Arab world. At the moment 20,000 Egyptian troops are being withdrawn from the Yemen; Russian ships are going through the Dardanelles; Algeria is sending troops, and Syria, Tunisia and Jordan are prepared to provide them also. It is vital for any Arab leader to survive that he should toe the Nasser line. Therefore, we must realise that failure on the diplomatic level will either unleash a preventive war on the part of Israel, or, alternatively, cause Israel to withdraw, losing all faith in international institutions, and to concentrate on building herself up as an independent nuclear power, with all that that entails.
There is no doubt that the Gulf of Aqaba is of supreme economic significance to Israel. It is her link to Africa, Asia and to countries like new Zealand and Australia. But it is of far greater political significance, because it is a symbol of the pressure which the Arab world is seeking to bring to bear upon the State of Israel. If Egypt succeeds in this blockade it will be the first step, which will be followed by others. It could well lead to the blockade of Israel's Mediterranean ports. It will be a sign for increased incidents on the Israeli border. It could even give fresh impetus to diverting the waters of the Jordan and rendering much of the area round the Sea of Galilee totally incapable if being put to agricultural use.
If a Soviet-backed move of this sort in the Middle East was successful, within one year the Soviet Union would be the only major Power in the Middle East with any influence. A fortnight ago there were only two hardliners in support of Nasser—Syria and Iraq. Today, those who have been comparatively cool-headed—countries like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Tunisia—have been forced into the Egyptian orbit—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—for the very simple reason that the attempt to destroy Israel which is the declared objective of the Arab States, is the "Clause Four" of the Arab 138 League, which no country would dare to go against. Therefore, the problem is concentrated on Aqaba, but it is the symbol of the wider threat. Both sides regard it in that light.
I believe that the Prime Minister was entirely right at Margate to make this country's view unequivocal and clear. It was also right to quote the speech of our delegate in the General Assembly on 4th March, 1957. Sir Alan Noble said that the position of Aqaba was quite different from that of any other international waterway, and that the other instances quoted by Mr. Krishna Menon did not apply. He said:… the Gulf of Aqaba is not only bounded at its narrow point of entry (that is, the Straits of Tiran) by two different countries, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but contains at its head the ports of two further countries: Jordan and Israel. This simple, undeniable fact is in itself enough to put it in a different category to any of the inland waters mentioned by Mr. Krishna Menon.This applies only, I believe, to that particular international waterway.
May I ask two questions? First, what are our moral obligations towards Israel, and, second, what should we now be doing diplomatically? I do not take the view that the Tripartite Declaration is dead and buried or that the mere fact that Russia is now a political force in the Midle East or that we and the Americans and the French are no longer the exclusive suppliers of arms in any way removes the continuing moral obligation in the Tripartite Declaration.
It was by force of that Declaration that the three Governments… take this opportunity of declaring their deepest interest in, and their desire to promote the establishment and maintenance of peace and stability in the area and their unalterable opposition of the use of force or threat of force between any of the States in the area. The three Governments, should they find that any of those States was preparing to violate frontiers or armistice lines, would consistently with their obligations as members of the U.N., immediately take action, both within and outside the U.N., to prevent such a violation.I do not believe that the events of 1956 or the changing balance of power in the Middle East are sufficient excuse for devaluing the currency of moral obligations.
Therefore, no amount of legal sophistry can sweep away the continuing moral obligation to go to the assistance of a 139 nation whose frontiers are threatened or invaded, which was a moral obligation undertaken by this country and France and America in 1950. I hope that we will not take the view which a prominent German statesman pressed on this country in 1914 that our obligation, signed almost 100 years before, to go to the defence of Belgium was merely a "scrap of paper". We do not want to see Israel used as a second Czechoslovakia. Therefore, we have a continuing moral obligation. The care with which President Johnson used the phrase "within and outside the United Nations" clearly shows that America regards the Tripartite Declaration as having a continuing moral effect upon the Government of the United States.
There are many similarities between the present situation and that which obtained over Cuba in 1962. It is a very unpleasant and dangerous situation. There is nothing meritorious—certainly nothing very radical—in being weak and wet in such a situation. I was not one who screamed when President Kennedy took very firm action in 1962 when missiles were pointing at the heart of the United States. Nor, I hope, would I have been one who screamed, if I had been old enough to be in the House, when Sir Winston Churchill was pointing out the dangers on the continent of Europe in the thirties. We are at the moment in a similar situation.
Given that moral obligation, what should we be doing? Obviously, we should attempt, at first, to act through the United Nations and to build up a new emergency force. If Egypt is genuine in saying that the reason for her action is a threatened invasion of Syria, and if the Israelis are also sincere in saying that they have no intention of invading Syria, let them be persuaded to have a United Nations force on Israeli soil on the frontier with Syria—[HON. MEMBERS: "Both sides."]—both sides, if possible, but, if that cannot be done, on Israeli soil.
If we could step up U.N.T.S.O., that would be a possibility. If we could reconstitute the Mixed Armistice Commission which died in 1955, that also would be a possibility. But I doubt whether, without the agreement of America and Russia, one would get a 140 resolution through the Security Council or a two-thirds majority under the Uniting for Peace Resolution in the General Assembly.
Therefore, we may have to act outside the U.N., because the machinery of the United Nations cannot be used to give effect to the spirit of the Charter. The right hon. Member for Derby, South spoke about Arab refugees. I should be much more impressed had the Arab States themselves made greater efforts to settle the Palestine refugee problem and had the U.S.S.R. provided one kopek in the last 20 years towards the cost of helping the refugees.
There are two twin pillars which should be the policy of the Government. The first is that we cannot support a preventive war by Israel. The second is that there cannot be a blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba. This could well bring about a confrontation between Russia and America and this is a very real possibility. It would be for both to pause and consider whether this is something for which they are prepared to risk a third world war. President Nasser has already achieved tremendous political advantages even if the situation were to-recede at this moment, though he may be too far committed to do that at present. If the Arab States want reassurance about the frontiers with Israel, they should be given it, and by a United Nations presence. I believe that this is negotiable.
But if we do not succeed in preventing this blockade, I face quite frankly, that may well mean the dispatch of British. American or other forces into the Gulf of Aqaba. I accept that. One cannot start saying that one is not in favour of a blockade unless one is logically prepared to face that. If not, let us wash our hands of the whole matter. Let us just leave Israel and say, "We are not prepared to do anything about it; we have no obligations and we do not mind what happens in the Middle East."
The best chance of avoiding that is to make it clear beyond peradventure, publicly or privately, that this will happen and that it is going to happen but that, at the same time, the question of security for the Arab countries and their frontiers with Israel is something upon which they are entitled to receive satisfaction. I believe that if this blockade is allowed to 141 continue, within six months there will be an escalation of incidents and the situation will be much more difficult, with a much greater chance of preventive war.
In the Security Council on 29th May Lord Caradon said there were four points to be tackled. The first was:… how can tension be relieved and immediate dangers of conflict removed.I believe that there is no alternative but for an expression of firm intention to be given. The second was:… how can the rights of free and unimpeded passage through the Straits of Tiran be guaranteed and assured.I believe that that can happen only if there is a firm declaration by the maritime Powers; a clear intention that action will be taken if it must be taken. The third was:… how can effective United Nations measures and machinery to keep the peace and prevent violence and conflict through the whole area best be worked out for the future.That will be a long-term problem, but I hope that the events of the last few days will cause even the big Powers to realise that this part of the world is a very dangerous place and that, in the Middle East, it is in the interests of all Powers to see that some kind of international peace-keeping is done. The fourth was:… what new and additional action can be taken to prevent such dangers to the peace recurring in future years.If we are not careful, we will confront ourselves with the most appalling problems. Apart from Israel, we will face problems of our influence in the Middle East, of our economic position in the Middle East and of our oil supplies.
It is not merely our economic and political interests which are at stake. Anyone who goes to Israel cannot fail to be tremendously moved by the achievements of that country, just as anyone who goes to Egypt cannot fail to be moved by the great economic advances which have been made by that country in the last 10 to 15 years. However, we are speaking of a small, embattled democracy. It would be a tragedy if we were to say that 10 or 20 years after 6 million Jews were extinguished on the Continent of Europe, the conscience of the world was so untroubled that it did not say that the Jewish people were entitled to a strip of the 142 world's surface for their national homeland. That is what is at stake.
One of the most moving things in Israel is the approach to the Shrine of the Heroes, a shrine to commemorate the 6 million Jews who died in the last war. As one approaches it one sees the trees which have been planted by people from all over the world—for the most part European and for the most part Christian. They were people who had been traced through Israeli records as having given shelter to Jewish people during the war, very often at risk for their own lives. They were asked to go to Israel and each to plant a tree as a gesture of the reconciliation of Israel towards those countries guilty of the torture and massacre of the Jewish people during the war.
Is it too much to ask, after 10 or 15 years, for there to be the same spirit of reconciliation between Arabs and the Jewish people? I believe that even if that cannot happen, this country has a firm, binding, moral obligation to defend this small country from extinction. If we were to fail in that obligation the crime which we would commit would be nowhere as enormous as the crimes committed during the war, but would rank as one of the many crimes which have been perpetrated over the centuries against the Jewish people.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Will Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party made such an interesting speech that it is difficult to know on which point to comment first. I will be referring to some of the points he made, particularly to those he mentioned in his emotional peroration.
I share with him the feeling he expressed about what happened to European Jews. I would only add that the guilt does not lie on the Arab people but much nearer at home; but I will say no more about that now. Before coming to the main burden of my speech, I wish to refer to some of the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. It is, perhaps, a pleasant change to be able to say how much I enjoyed much of his speech and certainly the whole mood of it. His caution, reservation and desire to keep all options open for peace were highly commendable, and while I have certain doubts about some 143 of the points he raised, I thought that most of his remarks struck absolutely the right attitude.
There have always been in the House, certainly since I arrived here, hon. Members like my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) who have persistently and sincerely put the Zionist point of view. I quite understand that. Sometimes I have been with him, as he knows, although today I have no intention of putting myself in the posture of a spokesman for either an exclusively Arab or Israeli point of view about current events in the Middle East.
I try, to the best of my ability, to think like an international Socialist. If I were asked for my ideal solution for this troubled region, I would say that I would like to see a Palestine in which Jew, Arab and Christian could live harmoniously together in a society in which Socialist principles, political and economic, were generally accepted.
§ Sir B. Janner rose—
§ Mr. Griffiths
I hope that my hon. Friend will let me get going before intervening.
Perhaps some day that may come to pass. However, it is not a realistic assumption to make for the foreseeable future. I believe that some Arab leaders share the view that it is possible to have what one might call a multi-racial society in this area. The difficulty is that the antagonisms between Israel and her Arab neighbours are so deep that no Arab leader would dare publicly express that view at the moment.
Despite the Foreign Secretary urging us to keep off the Suez issue, I cannot resist referring to it, because the recent rush into print and speech by some of the guilty men of the Suez aggression of 1956 is one of the most disagreeable byproducts of this situation. We are told by some of them today that Egypt's actions prove how correct they were in 1956, on which occasion they disgracefully deceived Parliament and the people by pretending that they were taking action to stop a war which, in fact, was promoted to seize the Suez Canal.—[Interruption.] Now, in 1967, they pretend that their action was to preserve Israel from her neighbours. It is about time that they admitted the truth, which 144 is becoming increasingly recognised by the accumulation of unimpeachable evidence.
The fact is that the present crisis is a direct result of their use of Israel as an aggressive weapon against Egypt in 1956. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] It is all very well for hon. Gentlmen opposite to say "Rubbish", but they must remember that the events of 1956 were condemned by the United Nations and by the Labour Party. I am simply referring to what happened. I repeat that the present crisis is, in my opinion, a direct result of the Tory's use of Israel as an aggressive weapon against Egypt in 1956. [Interruption.] This is a free House of Commons and I am entitled to state my view—and I shall say why. It is the conviction of Arab nationalists everywhere that Israel was created as an instrument of imperialism and not as a refuge for persecuted Jews. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is the hon. Gentleman's view?"] In my view, it was a bad day for Israel when it lent itself to that sinister conspiracy. Every event since—
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I should like to ask him whether he asked Colonel Nasser what his intention was towards Israel, and whether the hon. Gentleman would agree that when I interviewed Nasser in 1954 he said, "I will never rest until Israel has been exterminated and the Jews have been liquidated." I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he put that question to Colonel Nasser and, if so, whether that is still Colonel Nasser's view?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I will speak on those matters in my own time and in my own way—but I will tell the hon. Member—
§ Mr. Griffiths
I will come to it in my own way and in my own time. I will not allow my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West to teach me how to make my speeches in the House of Commons. I will make them in my own way. I am not avoiding the question. I was simply saying, when I was interrupted all round—and I now again say—that the use of Israel at the time of Suez was a provocation to Arab nationalists everywhere. Does anyone disagree with that statement? It was a provocation, 145 not to me but to the Arab nationalists. That is what they say—
§ Mr. Griffiths
That is what they say—[Interruption.]—it is just as well that we should try to understand what they are saying, and that is what I am now trying to tell this House of Commons.
Every event, since the creation of Israel, from the Israelis' seizure of Eilat after the 1949 armistice, to which reference has already been made, to Mr. Eshkol's threats against Syria earlier this month—[HON. MEMBERS: "When?"]—is seen by the Arabs as part of a design further to erode their territory. That is how they see it, and this is what I am saying. There is ample documentary evidence. There are lots of newspaper reports, if anyone doubts what I say, of what spokesmen in Israel were saying about Syria early this month. [Interruption.] I am only trying to say that this has had its effect on this crisis.
Talking about hon. and right hon. Members opposite and how they put it, let me refer to an article in the Sunday Express at the weekend by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg). I know that nowadays he is always popping up, either larding the Eamonn Andrews Show with banalities or writing this kind of nonsense in the Sunday Express, which is honeycombed with historical inaccuracies. For instance, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said:When Nasser nationalised the canal it did not thereby absolve Egypt from the obligation to keep it open. When he failed to do so, Israel developed its Red Sea port so as to make navigation of the canal by its ships unnecessary.The fact is that Nasser nationalised the canal in 1956 and Israel seized Eliat a few years before that.[Interruption.]
Again, the right hon. and learned Gentleman says:In 1956 Nasser tried to block access to Elath by the erection of guns commanding the Gulf of Akaba on the Sinai peninsula. The result was the Suez war.Is anyone saying that that action was a direct cause of the Suez war? Did it not have something to do with the actions of Lord Avon and his supporters on the other side of the House? Is not 146 that a piece of pocket history that is, as it were, slightly off-beat and distorted? That is all I wish to say on that subject.
Much talk naturally centres round access to the Gulf of Aqaba. It is a matter of historical fact—and do not let hon. Members ask me my view, because it is a matter of fact—that Nasser did not commence to block the Gulf of Aqaba. It did not start after the Egyptian revolution of 1952—the Gulf was being blocked even in the days of Farouk. There were still—
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I think that where he makes a mistake relates to the fact that the Port of Eilat did not even start to be developed at the time of which he speaks. I went there myself early in 1956, and there were only a few wooden huts and no port facilities whatever, because the Gulf of Aqaba was blocked, with gun emplacements at its entrance. It was only after the United Nations Emergency Force took over and made sure that there was no such blockage that Israel invested a vast amount of time, money and effort in making Port Eilat something worth while and very valuable to her economy.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am sure that that is so. I only say that it was occupied before the Suez aggression—before 1956–57. Hon. Members opposite must not seek to date all their arguments from 1956. This policy was going on for some years before that, and Eilat, although not developed, was seized by Israel a very considerable number of years before 1956–57. Does the hon. Member accept that?
§ Mr. Griffiths
Right—we are agreed on that.
Last Friday I returned from a short visit to Egypt—[Interruption.] I was accompanied by three of my hon. Friends, and I want to explain how the visit came about and why we went there. [Interruption.] If the House of Commons wants to listen to only one point of view it will not be living up to its high reputation. I have been in the House a number 147 of years, and I am not unused to being in a minority. I shall continue my speech to the end, and I do not care whether I am interrupted by the Opposition or from my own side—I shall continue to put my case to the best of my ability.
The object of our visit was not related to the events that overtook us in this dispute between Israel and the U.A.R. We went to Egypt because some of us believe that it is high time Members of Parliament—and particularly members of the Labour Party—understood a little more about what is happening internally and socially since the Arab revolution was carried through in Egypt in 1952. I can tell my hon. Friends that the dispossession of the land owners and the dispossession of the wealthy has gone to very great lengths indeed in the U.A.R. There is much in the internal actions there which ought to appeal to every Socialist. [Interruption.]
It was to look at the internal situation that we went to Egypt. We saw a very great deal that was of enormous interest and benefit to us. We had the experience while we were there of the crisis and the international crisis building up. We had the opportunity of being received by President Nasser. [Interruption.] I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary today speaking in terms that held out the possibility of friendship with President Nasser, something for which he has been derided over and over again by hon. and right hon. Members opposite—and I hope they are not to be joined by my hon. Friends. I thought that the House might be interested to hear my recollections of how I think the Egyptians see the present situation and its origins. I am sorry if some of the comments I have to make about the origins and so on—some were referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker)—exasperate people, but I have to report them because this is how one important party in this conflict sees the issue.
First, I refer to the actual incidents which provoked the mobilisation of the Egyptian armed forces and their movement into Sinai. This was a culmination and escalation of the regular border incidents on the Egyptian border, the Lebanese border, on Jordan and 148 especially in Syria. There have been hundreds of these on both sides.
§ Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)
I am most reluctant to interrupt my hon. Friend, and I do so with great respect, but it is quite untrue to say that there have been attacks of terrorism on both sides. There have been 31 attacks from Syria into Israel before the recent retaliatory act. With his record for the truth, my hon. Friend should tell the truth here.
§ Mr. Griffiths
My hon. Friend has misunderstood. I have said that there have been a whole series of border incidents in which both sides have been involved. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, one side."] I know that the Arabs have constantly been sending bands into Israel across the various borders, but what does my hon. Friend call it when on 7th April the Israeli Air Force with tanks and troops was committed into a large-scale battle, what they called reprisal over the border into Syria? Is not that an incident?
§ Mr. Mendelson
The Syrian Government have declared publicly that as a prelude to the ensuing destruction of Israel they would send armed bands into Israel. If they defend themselves 31 times that is defence and the other is aggression.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am simply saying that there have been repeated incidents, and I am unhappy about them all. I am trying to explain the point of view of one of the contending parties. To pretend that this is all black and white is manifestly absurd. I quote to the House and to my hon. Friend a report in The Guardian by Mr. David Hirst on 14th May which said:The danger of an Arab-Israel war has grown slightly more serious during the past few days. Israeli warnings have become almost routine in recent months, but this week they took on a more ominous pattern when an informed source was quoted as talking about the possibility of marching on Damascus and overthrowing the present regime.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
Order. May I remind hon. and 149 right hon. Members that a large number of hon. Members wish to speak in this debate and interruptions prolong speeches.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Precisely because of that I do not want to give way more than is absolutely necessary. These incidents, call them what you will, terrorist raids or reprisals, were in fact happening. Whether the House believes it or not, we were told that Egypt believed that by the middle of this month there was a serious threat of an Israeli invasion of Syria. The Egyptians believed that mobilised along the Syrian frontier were 13 or 14 brigades. [HON. MEMBERS: "Did you believe it?"] I am not saying what I believe. I am putting to the House what other people have told me. I am doing so because I thought it of interest for the House to hear another point of view. They were satisfied that this would happen.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South referred to the rôle of the C.I.A., which seemed very sinister. I must confess that at one time when some of my hon. Friends saw the hand of the C.I.A. in every sort of overthrow of what they regarded as a progressive regime anywhere in the world I was sceptical, but I am not so sceptical now. We have the well-documented case of Santo Domingo, and the recent examination of the C.I.A. in Guyana revealed by the "Insight" column in the Sunday Times.
All I say is that some sources in the U.A.R. say that the C.I.A. is playing a rôle in this situation. They say that the C.I.A. were encouraging Israel to have a go at Syria. When I was told this I was sceptical and asked for proof. I shall tell hon. Members what was said. I was told that this was put to the American Ambassador in Cairo. He was told that the C.I.A. was intervening in these matters, whereupon the Ambassador expressed his scepticism. Then the Egyptians said, "We have a tape recording of your agents' conversations. We shall play it to you". Whereupon the American Ambassador said, "I do not think I would like to hear it now. I will ring up Washington and see what they say". After ringing up Washington he said, "I do not think I would like to hear it after all." I know that these things can have an effect, but in view of what has hap- 150 pened in recent years, I am not so sceptical about the r61e of the C.I.A. as I used to be.
I want to comment on the business of the United Nations force in the Middle East and to point out that it was only on Egyptian soil. It was never on Israeli soil. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party say that if a United Nations force is interposed between the contending parties again—as I hope it will be—that force will be stationed not only on Egyptian soil but on Israeli soil.
I want to say a word about the dominant position which the Egyptians have occupied since the United Nations withdrew on the Gulf of Aqaba and the position on Sharm el Sheikh. The House ought to hear the Egyptian point of view about this. [HON. MEMBERS: "We know it."] I am not sure that the House does know it. From the Egyptian point of view, the reoccupation of Sharm el Sheikh represents the recovery of the last piece of loot which was held by any of the three collusionists who carried out the Suez aggression in 1956. That is how they see it, because, of course, Israel simply got there as a consequence of the Suez aggression in which this country, France and Israel participated in 1956. The Egyptians say that it was acquired by that conspiracy and that aggression and that now they are back where they were before 1956. They point out that a state of war still exists between the U.A.R. and Israel. They pointed out that Israeli ships were denied access to the Gulf even before the Egyptian revolution of 1952 and that passage has arisen since 1956 simply because of the Israeli occupation during the Suez war of Sharm el Sheikh, from which they only withdrew after the installation of a United Nations force ensured the continuance of a policy which suited them. Thus Israel benefited by the 1956 aggression, which was condemned by the United Nations, condemned by the Muslims of the Commonwealth, condemned by this party, and at least half of the nation. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Incidentally, as far as I understand it, the Egyptians anyway have no intention of stopping food supplies but simply oil and raw materials.
Let me say that as far as I am personally concerned—and I invite my hon. 151 Friends to go and look at the record—as those who agree with me know, over a long time in this party and in my membership of the House, I have at times had to take an extremely unpopular line even in defiance of the Government—for instance, over Palestine, and when we had a Labour Government; and if today I am saying unpopular things from the point of view of one of the contending parties or of some Members of the House, it is not, I beg you to believe, a view which I hold or want to see maintained—
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am putting a view which I certainly thought a matter which the House of Commons wants to consider in seeking to find a solution, which I also want to find.
Let me say right away that, never mind the dangers of escalation, it would be an enormous tragedy if the people who built up the kibbutzes in Israel, and if the people in the United Arab Republic slaving away on the Aswan Dam today and building their conception of Socialism in their own country, were denied the fruits of their labours, and certainly I am not going to be a party to a policy which destroys that. I am simply telling the House, however unpopular it may sound, what are the views which, I gathered during my recent visit, were held by one of the contending parties in this highly critical situation.
§ Mr. Griffiths
There is a question which has been referred to earlier without causing any great jeers—it was referred to by the Leader of the Liberal Party, and in particular it was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South—and that is the problem of the homeless Arab refugees. For nearly twenty years 1½ million of these people have been denied repatriation to their homeland, and also compensation. If anybody starts to howl at that one let me say that I accept that more could have been done to assimilate them into the neighbouring Arab countries, and it may well be that they have been main- 152 tained there in their misery in Jordan and the Gaza Strip simply as a propaganda instrument. That may well be so, but it does not alter the fact that many hundreds of thousands of them were driven from their homes at that time, and the United Nations, for which most of my hon. Friends have a regard, and quite rightly, has repeatedly said that these people ought to be taken back into what is now the State of Israel. One really cannot help but recognise that this is the background of the conflict today.
The President of the United Arab Republic, President Nasser, insists that he will not attack first. I believe him. Israel has apparently been prevailed upon to withhold military action. [Interruption.] He has simply moved his troops inside his own territory. That is all he has done. I am very glad to see that so far restraint has been shown by all the contending parties in this dispute, because in this situation are all the ingredients of a world-wide catastrophe. But we have a little time.
I am afraid that, mostly as a result of the policy of hon. and right hon. Members opposite, British policy in the Middle East lies in ruins. In my opinion, under successive Governments we have paid too much attention and given too much support to the feudal kings and sheikhs of the Arab world, people who, inevitably, sooner or later, will be consigned to the dustbin of history. We must realise and accept the facts of the Arab revolution, accomplished or burgeoning. If a new appreciation, a reappraisal, of President Nasser's rôle and intentions had taken place even three years ago, matched by a rapid military withdrawal on our part from the Persian Gulf and South Arabia, I believe that Britain's influence for peace would have been greater today. Of what use are our aristocratic allies, Feisal, for example, today? It is a supreme irony. The Foreign Secretary deplored the sale of arms to the Middle East. So do I. Here we are selling the most sophisticated weaponry to Feisal and Saudi Arabia, and which, in the present situation, might be used against Israel, and I, too, hope that an embargo will be worked out between the Great Powers on arms sales to the Middle East. But even these feudal aristocrats are bound to bow to the gale of Arab nationalist opinion.
153 I apologise for having taken so much time, but I have been very much interrupted, and I was determined to finish my speech, and I will finish it on this note. I believe that the policy which the Government ought to adopt in the short term is this. I do not think we ought to take sides with either the United States of America or with the Soviet Union. We ought to display an independent initiative. I agreed with the Foreign Secretary when he welcomed the proposal by France for the four-Power conference. I share with him his disappointment at the rejection of this suggestion by the Soviet Union. I think he ought to persist in working with France, which recognises two sides to this problem. I believe, too, that the Foreign Secretary might examine the possibilities of having a private conference, under the chairmanship of the Secretary-General, between France, Great Britain, Israel, and the United Arab Republic, which, I believe, could rapidly solve the confrontation in the Gaza Strip, and then, if restraint is still exercised by all concerned, the more difficult problem of Aqaba.
Now, before I sit down, I will give way to the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden).
§ Mr. Burden
May I ask the hon. Gentleman if he will answer the question I put to him during the earlier part of his speech? Did he ascertain from Nasser whether his view still is the view he gave to me in 1954, that he will never rest till he has eliminated the State of Israel and annihilated the Israeli people?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I will answer that without hesitation. As far as I understand it, from the questions put to him, it is certainly not President Nasser's view. He gave me no impression at all that that was his view. I hope I have answered the question. I do not know why my hon. Friends behind me were so unaware of my reputation and actions as to think that I was afraid to answer the question.
Again I apologise for having taken so long.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Sandys (Streatham)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. Will Griffiths), except to say that the House 154 always likes to hear both sides of a question; but, with all respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that Colonel Nasser's case has been much assisted by his speech.
I find myself in general agreement with the speech of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. But on this occasion I do not intend to write him a letter about it. [Laughter.] As the right hon. Gentleman said, this is not basically a dispute between Arabs and Jews. The present dangerous situation has primarily been brought about by a combination of two things—first, the struggle for power within the Arab world and, secondly, Russia's desire to secure a dominant influence in the Middle East.
Colonel Nasser has for sime time been pursuing his ambitions in various ways, though without very much success. He tried to unite some of the Left-wing régimes under the umbrella of the so-called United Arab Republic; but that was a complete fiasco. He tried to engineer the overthrow of the King of Saudi Arabia and the King of Jordan; but that did not prove to be quite so easy as he expected. He tried to conquer the Yemen; but he failed there also. To restore his damaged prestige, he has now called a holy war against the Jews.
As the Foreign Secretary said, the divisions and suspicions between the Arab countries are as deep and as bitter as ever. But, in the present emotional situation, no Arab can afford to appear halfhearted in his support for Colonel Nasser's action against Israel. Every Arab leader has been obliged, as we have seen, to jump on to the band wagon. Having thus been swept suddenly to the pinnacle of popularity and influence, Colonel Nasser will obviously not climb down in a hurry, more especially since he does not stand alone.
He would never have dared to act as he has, had it not been for the support of the Soviet Union. For some time the Russians have been actively building up the strength of Egypt's armed forces. A reference was made to this by the Foreign Secretary. In the Yemen the Russians have been backing the Egyptians up to the hilt. Without any prospect of payment, they have supplied them with MiGs and Ilyushins. Several thousand Russian technicians are encamped near 155 Sana'a; and there is growing evidence that a Soviet submarine base is being built on the Red Sea, at Hodaida.
There is no doubt ahout what all this adds up to. Colonel Nasser is intent on building an Arab empire. Having failed to achieve this on his own, he is now trying to ride in on the back of Russia. As for the Russians, they see the opportunity to become a dominant Power in the Middle East, and they have found in Nasser the perfect tool for their purpose.
There is no doubt that they have won the first round. It is no good pretending otherwise. The United Nations force has been unceremoniously kicked out, one of Israel's principal ports has been blockaded, and so far the only reaction has been words of protest and caution.
Having achieved this limited, but none the less impressive, success, it suits them down to the ground that both sides should now be urged to exercise restraint. For the present, they ask for nothing better than the maintenance of the existing position. But the Jews are unlikely to accept that. They have so far shown remarkable restraint. For this they deserve the gratitude of the world.
However, we should not assume that they will submit indefinitely to the closure of one of their main accesses to the outer world. Unless the Gulf of Aqaba is reopened, through action at the United Nations or otherwise, it is probable that Israel will try to break the blockade by force of arms. That would inevitably lead to a full-scale war with the Arab countries, and it is difficult to see how Britain could fail to be involved.
We should remember that we have military forces throughout this area—in Cyprus, Libya, Bahrein and Sharjah, not to mention Aden. As regards Aden, I assume that the Government will grab with both hands the excuse provided by the present crisis to rescind their foolish decision to withdraw our forces in January.
In the event of an Arab-Israeli war, nobody can predict the attitude of Russia; but, once hostilities have broken out, the possibility of a clash between the Soviet Union and the Western Powers, with all that that might entail, cannot be ignored.
156 Our central objective should therefore be to prevent the outbreak of an Arab-Israeli war, the wider consequences of which could be disastrous for the whole world. However, those who agree with this must face the fact that, if an Arab-Israeli war is to be prevented, the blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba must be lifted, and fairly quickly.
How is this to be done? The action so far taken by the Government has, in my opinion, been absolutely correct. The Prime Minister reaffirmed that the Gulf of Aqaba is an international waterway, and the Foreign Secretary has today added the important statement that the blockading of the Gulf would be regarded by Her Majesty's Government as a belligerent act. The Government are also right in seeking a solution both inside and outside the United Nations.
But what do we do if these efforts at conciliation fail? One course is to do nothing, to ignore the assurances which have been given and to wash our hands of the consequences, as we did with Czechoslovakia. Some of us who were in the House at the time of the Munich crisis cannot help comparing the two situations. But history never exactly repeats itself. One of the big differences—and there are many others—between 1938 and 1967 is that then the Czechs were persuaded to accept Hitler's assurance that he had no further territorial ambitions. The Jews today could never be fooled into believing that the Arab squeeze will end at Aqaba. In fact, Nasser has made it painfully clear—I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) has just said—that his objective is nothing less than to wipe the State of Israel off the map. Incidentally, when flying in an Arab Airways aircraft the other day, I noticed that the map they provided showed on it the name of every country save one, which was left nameless. That country, of course, was Israel.
For the Arabs, this is a deeply emotional issue. To that extent, I agree with the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange. But for the Jews it is a question of life or death. They will fight for their survival even if they are deserted by the whole world; and, once war has started, no one can say where it could lead us.
157 The alternative is to do what the Prime Minister indicated in his speech at Margate, when he said that Her Majesty's Government wouldpromote and support international action to uphold the right of free passage through the Gulf of Aqaba".I was very glad to hear from the Foreign Secretary today that the Government are concerting ideas with other maritime nations. If it is decided to break the blockade, it will, presumably, be necessary to provide armed escorts for ships entering the Gulf. In that case it is possible that Egyptian shore batteries may open fire. If so, the escort vessels would, no doubt, have to shoot back. It may be said that this could create an explosive situation. Maybe, but it is something which we may have to face.
If we should be confronted with a choice of risks, on the one hand, the risk of allowing the Middle East to drift into war and, on the other, the risk involved in breaking the blockade, I have no doubt that the second of those two courses is incomparably the less dangerous.
I hope, however, that, before any decision of this kind has to be taken, a further intensive effort will be made to devise a formula which could provide the basis of a mutually acceptable solution—probably not perfect, and perhaps only temporary. That, I understand, is the Government's immediate objective.
It is right that hon. Members outside the Government should take the opportunity of this debate to express views on the action which might be taken if negotiation fails. But, so long as any hope remains of finding an agreed solution, either through the United Nations or through diplomatic channels, it would not be right to press the Prime Minister to tell us more about the Government's intentions.
For the present, we can do no more than stress the gravity of the situation and the serious consequences which would ensue if it were allowed to get out of hand, and express the sincere hope that, even at this late stage, good sense will prevail.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, Northwest)
What the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) expressed in his peroration certainly 158 accords with the feelings which I have and which anyone in a position similar to mine has on this matter. I had intended to speak on certain matters in this debate, but they have been covered by other right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken, particularly by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), the Leader of the Liberal Party.
My right hon. Friends in the Government know that this is a matter of very deep concern to me and to every Jew throughout the world. It is not an issue which involves Israel alone. It is one of deep concern to all Jewish people, who saw the slaughter of 6 million of their kith and kin and of deep concern to civilised people everywhere. In Israel today, there are many men and women who now bear no traces of the terrible circumstances through which they passed as helpless children in the forests of Germany, they bear those traces no longer because they were tended in Israel, which has been and is a humane, civilised, cultured country, one which believes in democracy and humanity. It has tended those people, the very people who are being threatened today by Nasser and others, and brought them from a state of virtual instability to a life in which they can be good citizens indistinguishable from all others living in that country today.
Everyone in the House knows this, including my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. Will Griffiths), who has just gone out. No hon. Member and no person outside who has ever visited Israel could endorse the foolish remarks made by my hon. Friend when he called upon another country to establish a democratic State—I am not quoting his exact words—a Socialist State. Good heavens—if ever there was a State in which Socialist ideas, irrespective of what may be felt polemically in this House, were brought into effect not in any aggressive sense, but in the hope that the nation as a whole would prosper and everyone would have the benefit of communal life and common understanding, that State is Israel. Israel has been, perhaps, the one country in the Middle East which has managed to establish that life. This must be clear to everyone, whether Socialist, Liberal or Conservative.
159 I was deeply hurt by what was said by my hon. Friend. He was for many years aware of the truth of what I am now saying and he supported these views, but, because of a petty visit to the tyrant of the Middle East, he was persuaded into giving to the House opinions which everyone knows are nonsense.
I cannot help thinking back to the days when I stood in this Chamber, together with such men as the late Winston Churchill, and tried to explain the true nature of what Hitler was doing, writing as he did and expressing the intentions he expressed, starting his nefarious and subhuman work under the very nose of the civilised world, while, at the same time, denying that he was doing it. I recall having begged the House to understand what was happening.
What is happening today? Is this a new move on Nasser's part? I ask my hon. Friends who went to see Nasser: why did they not tell him that over the radio, on the television and in his speeches he was, day after day, for years, inciting the whole Arab world against this innocent set of people who, he knew, had no intention of extending their territory in any way, or harming any neighbours?
President Nasser has used the Arab refugees as a pawn in order to be able to satisfy his own vicious intentions. He has made no bones about those intentions. It has gone on year after year. It is unbelievable that anyone should imagine that the question as to why he has now advanced on Israel can in any way be answered except by the fact that for many years, while saying that he would do it, he was afraid of Israel until he could intimidate the rest of the Arab countries into standing behind him.
This is similar to the bullying attitude that Hitler adopted. I am sorry to speak in these terms. I am as anxious as anyone, just as the Israelis are anxious, that peace should prevail. Time and again Israel has made advances towards the Arabs asking their leaders to come to the table and argue the thing out. They have offered to consider with the Arabs how the problem of the poor people who have been kept on Israel's borders as pawns could be solved.
Of course, it is a terrible situation for the refugees. But there were not 1¼ mil- 160 lion at the time the Arabs attacked the Jews in Palestine. There were about 500,000 or 600,000. They were begged by Israel to remain. They were told that they would be unmolested. But they went across the border believing that Israel would be defeated in a few days. They left because these leaders, who are feudal lords—let us not mistake this issue—had asked them to leave, promising that the Jews would be thrown into the sea.
But the Jews of Israel had the same spirit as those poor people who were in Hitler's camps. Their spirits were indomitable, like those of their predecessors who appeared at the time of the Maccabees and other heroes. They would not stand for it. Indeed, they had no alternative but to remain where they were.
Hatred has been whipped up against the Jews in Israel, but what has Israel done to deserve it? Is there anyone in the House or in the world who could deny that, if ever there was a jewel in the crown of the United Nations, it is Israel? Has Israel ever attacked anyone without having to do so? What is the good of my hon. Friend talking about aggression by Israel? How much longer, for example, could he expect these innocent and sturdy workers on the land, whose only enemy that they could see were the ravages of nature on the soil of this small piece of land less than the size of Wales, to stand still in face of daily attacks by marauders? Let us ask ourselves that question.
We asked that question at the time of Hitler. Can we afford to stand still now? Do we really believe that the action taken in the Gulf of Aqaba, unless it is stopped, will stop at that? What is to stop this man Nasser, who was cursing and intimidating Jordan only a week or two ago, from preventing vessels reaching Israel and, in the end, preventing anyone in the Western world from going anywhere near Israel?
Perhaps I can be excused for being somewhat emotional. I have been in the Zionist movement for many years. I honestly believed that Jewish people would make good on the land, that they would make good if they had a place on earth to which they might have gone at the time of Hitler if it had existed in the form in which it should have existed and in which it exists today. I was more than pleasantly surprised when I saw what 161 I have believed in actually being brought into effect successfully.
When it came to the question of informing colleagues in this House it was my privilege to take a delegation of M.P.s of all parties to Israel—the first unofficial Parliamentary delegation, to see the Jews as they are—to find out for themselves whether Goebbels was right or not. Israel has justified its existence. What are we going to do about it?
I wish that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Exchange had been here. I would like to give him a few of the facts which should persuade him quickly of the true position. Syria instituted the concept of a popular war of liberation involving the financing and training of guerrilla commandos and sending them on missions of destruction in the territory of the State of Israel. Why did my hon. Friends who met Nasser not tell him of these things?
§ Mr. James Dickens (Lewisham, West)
I know that my hon. Friend speaks with great feeling. He will recognise that our discussions with President Nasser were confidential. He pointed out that at this critical juncture he would be making extremely important statements about the situation in the Middle East. We gave him our assurance that his confidence would be respected.
However, the question which my hon. Friend has now raised was raised by us with President Nasser and vigorously pressed. I give him my assurance on that. I hope, that my hon. Friend will accept that I made the strongest representations in Cairo for the withdrawal of anti-Jewish posters which had appeared in central Cairo and was given by President Nasser a categorical assurance that they would be taken down.
§ Sir B. Janner
I am obliged. I myself would have accepted that and I am happy that my hon. Friend has told us.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It will help the Official Reporters if the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) addresses the Chair.
§ Sir B. Janner
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps I am feeling a little more emotional than I should. I hope that the House will understand.
During the past two years, 113 attacks by mining and sabotage have been perpet- 162 rated by marauders acting under Syrian orders. Since July, 1956, Israel has despatched 43 notes to the Security Council on this situation and has conducted unceasing talks with Powers in the United Nations in New York. The Egyptian pretext for massing troops in Sinai was unfounded. Both the United Nations and the Powers have informed Egypt that Syrian allegations that Israel was concentrating troops on her border were false. The Syrians themselves refused to submit to United Nations inspection on both sides.
I could quote much more, but I do not want to take more time than is necessary. It is essential, however, that we should realise with what we are dealing. We are dealing with the problem of a little democratic country which is trusted by the United Nations and which is practising what the United Nations would want. To those of us who know the situation, it has come as a great blow that the Secretary-General saw fit to move away at a critical time when, in accordance with arrangements which had been made, he was supposed to have stayed and to have had consultations. That is the picture of what besets the world today.
Does anyone think that if Israel is destroyed—and heaven forfend that it should be, because the world would lose much—that would be the end of the matter? I know that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are doing everything that they possibly can, supported by the whole House, to cope with the situation, but I beg them to understand that this embattled nation of 2,500,000 brave and courageous men, women and children cannot stand the strain of prolonged deliberations.
The Israelis have lost before, because Hitler deprived them of the means of defending themselves, but in the concentration camp of Auschwitz, and places like that, they fought armed forces with their bare hands. We cannot expect such people, who have done nothing wrong, to sit for prolonged periods and wait while the pincer movement gets them so entrapped that they cannot get out.
I appeal to my right hon. Friends to get to the maritime nations and do what can be done, but for heaven's sake to act as quickly as possible.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
We have had very many remarkable speeches and, with the exception of one, the House has been almost united in its determination that aggression should not be justified.
In many ways this has been a more distinguished debate than the last on the Middle East, because then, although the whole crisis of the Middle East was boiling up, the Foreign Secretary did not so much as mention Israel once in the whole of his speech. It seemed a most curious omission at the time, and I do not think that we can be quite certain that this total neglect of the Israeli problem by the Foreign Secretary in his pursuit of Nasser during the last two or three years has not gone some way towards creating the present crisis.
This, above all, is a time for facts. It is also a time of escapism, because when one is faced with such extraordinary consequences as might occur there is a natural desire to back out from any action which might result in war. I should, therefore, like to speak as plainly as possible and without any inhibition.
Once again, Egypt has violated an international treaty and has threatened established order. We have had this assault by Nasser upon the future of Israel and he is using Israel as an instrument for the domination of the whole Arab world. For the first time, Russia and Egypt are working together openly, hand in hand, and their interests are mutual. As my right hon. Friend has said, for years Nasser has tried to establish an empire on his own. He has not succeeded and he is now attempting to do it with the aid of Russia. Whether he will succeed is a matter of opinion.
This is the background against which we must consider this matter. It is also important that before we shy away from the consequences we appreciate what Israel itself is thinking. During the next weeks, the whole future of Israel will be decided, whether it is to continue or to be totally destroyed. As Israel sees it, these next few weeks are absolutely crucial. If the Western Powers, the United States, this country and, one hopes, France, will definitely stand by their declaration to ensure that the waters of the Gulf of Aqaba are free for the 164 transit of all ships, then Israel can survive, but if, on the other hand, there follows this a period of talking, then a period of more talking with proposals for a compromise, then the Israelis will believe that they are condemned and that their condemnation is simply being put off.
They see the situation as developing with maximum pressure being put on the United Kingdom and America not to allow Israel to move. I imagine that there will be sabotage in the oil fields connected with the West. Inevitably, there will be endless pressure upon us to convince us that we should not support Israel in any way, because we will lose our oil interests by so doing.
All this can be seen and the hope and belief of Russia and Egypt is that they will cause us to compromise and to patch up some sort of solution which may pass for a day or two, but which, in the long run, will inevitably mean in their eyes the abolition of Israel, for the Israelis regard anything but the absolute assurance that these waters shall be territorially free for them to travel in as a definite step forward by the axis of Cairo and Moscow. As my right hon. Friend said, there is no doubt that if one compromise were accepted by Israel now, another would be demanded.
What Israel is asked to do is to pay Danegeld and we know that once Danegeld is paid it has to be paid again and again. There is no chance whatever that, even if it wanted to, Egypt could stop upon this path of aggression towards Israel. It cannot afford to do so. The momentum is forward, and if there is a compromise to which America and this country agree, the inevitable result will be that Nasser will momentarily turn his attention from Israel to further down the Gulf, to the Yemen and Aden. How is he to be resisted there? How are other Arabs in the Yemen and Aden and the Gulf to resist the pressure of the man who will have been made the hero of Arabia by his diplomatic defeat of the enemy of Arabia, Israel?
There is no doubt that the issue facing us is simple. If we give in to Nasser's demands now and allow him to refuse entry of ships to the Port of Eilat in Israel under any conditions, then Israel is condemned. Israel realises this and will inevitably move itself. If Israel 165 moves, what is at stake then? What will happen? One can imagine Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria attacking. Almost inevitably, Israel will then move down to the banks of the Jordan. The figure of half million Arabs who are in Israel will then swell to 1½ million.
What happens when the peace is declared, as it probably will be declared, as it always is declared when the United States and Russia confront each other with neither wanting war? The problem of Israel would then be not decreased, but greatly increased. We should then have to try to work with countries on whose oil our economy is dependent and which would be far more bitter towards us than they are at present. There will be the prospect of even greater disruption and violence if Israel is forced to declare war on Egypt.
The only way in which we can prevent that is to be absolutely categoric that the Gulf of Aqaba must be a free water. If that is so, there is hope. If not, I honestly believe that there is no hope for the avoidance of war.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mrs. Margaret McKay (Clapham)
I feel that this is one of the most tragic moments in recent history. I find it very difficult to speak on this problem, following what has been said by the leader of the Zionists, with whose emotion for his people I deeply sympathise and the terror of whose people I thoroughly understand, particularly when I stand here as the devil's advocate.
I was very pleased that the Foreign Secretary, in referring to the problem of the Gulf, had some constructive proposals to make. I was afraid that he might restrict his remarks to the problems of the Gulf of Aqaba and passage through the Gulf. I was delighted to hear that he was seeking a solution to the problem of the Gulf of Aqaba in concert with other nations and in the spirit of the rights of international waterways in general and not in the spirit of the problem of the Gulf of Aqaba in particular. I welcome his remarks in that connection. If the problem of the Gulf can be isolated and removed to the International Court it will help us to turn our minds to the basic problem—the wider issue of Israel-Arab relations.
166 The rôle of the Soviet Union in this tragic situation is generally understood in the House. In my opinion, the aims of the Soviet Union are wider than have been mentioned. I think that the Soviet Union is not merely interested in creating problems for the Western Powers in relation to their oil interests, or in wooing the Arab States away from the West. I think that it has ambitions in Africa and that troubles in the Middle East facilitate its passage through to Africa. I am sure that that is one of the aims behind these manœuvres.
Although it is perhaps difficult to say this, I feel that there has been an overemphasis on the rôle of President Nasser. I appreciate his imperialist ambitions. I cannot forget, and I hope that the Arab States will not forget, such incidents as the recent bombing of Najram. However, I feel that, whether the Russians or Nasser are there or not, the problem of the existence of Israel as a State would still remain.
I am of Irish descent, and the Irish have a long yen back to the past. Therefore, I can fully understand how the Jewish people longed for a return to their home. But one must also understand that the Arabs had lived in that territory from pre-Christian times and that from then until the last 20 years they had lived happily with the Jewish people.
§ Sir Barnett Janner rose—
§ Mrs. McKay
I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. It is difficult to speak after such an emotional, moving and knowledgeable speech by my hon. Friend. I beg him to give me the privilege of developing an argument which is very difficult to develop.
Although, as I have said, I am speaking in the rôle of devil's advocate, I am doing it with the deepest understanding of the other side's problems. But there are two sides. It is in the long history of peaceful co-existence between Jew and Arab until the last 20 years that the hope for the future lies. As long ago as the Middle Ages, at the time of the Crusades, the Jews of Europe were fleeing to the Arab countries for sanctuary. Until the last 20 years they had lived peacefully together, and the sacred places of Christianity and the Jewish religion have been protected by the Muslims.
167 We have had today remembrances of Dachau and Oswiecim. I have been to Poland and I know what that means. But we must remind ourselves that it was not the Arab States which invented gas chambers or concentration camps, or the other horrors of that era. That sin is on our conscience. It is this which gives me hope that there is still the possibility of the problems between the two peoples being solved. It does not help to bring about a solution if hon. Members talk about Arabs exterminating Jews. This is not the spirit of the Arab people. The two peoples lived together happily for many centuries. It is a completely different thing to be opposed to the imposition of a foreign State, as the Arabs see it.
I have been doing my damndest in the House to try to get an understanding between the two sides. I have tried in the House to form Anglo-Arab associations because the Arabs are so bad at stating the case, if they have one. The present conflict was entirely predictable. I knew that it would come, although I did not think that it would come so quickly. I hoped that by bringing Members of Parliament together we would be able to get a balanced view. However, the Arabs have a genuine case which I do not think has been very well put today. I am sure that I shall not be able to put it very well. I do not propose to go through the history of it all.
The case has been put before this House in the past. As long ago as 1939 a White Paper was issued which, in my opinion, could very well form the basis of some suggestions which might help us in our negotiations between the two sides. As long ago as 1939 this House conceded that the Arabs had a case. It conceded that the troubles in the Middle East arose out of our broken pledges to the Arabs.
That White Paper made realistic and imaginative proposals to resolve the dispute between the two sides, to protect the rights of the Arabs, prevent their subordination and preserve their independence. It might be that that same White Paper could today form the basis of progressive proposals to resolve the dispute.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
My hon. Friend must be aware that the massacre of Jews all over Europe was subsequent to that White Paper. She must also be aware that the existence of the State of Israel is no longer a negotiable issue.
§ Mrs. McKay
It was a very great pity that both Israel and the Arab world rejected that White Paper. Had it been accepted, I am sure that we would have that found the two sides living amicably together. I am sure that it would be worth the consideration of the House to go over that White Paper and its suggestions.
Every suggestion which is made seems so unsolid, so nebulous, but at this stage we cannot know what negotiations are taking place between Governments. As has been said, we cannot ask what the diplomatic exchanges are. Nevertheless, the tenor of the debate, from both sides of the House, has been that we must try to achieve a peaceful method of negotiation and urge restraint and intensify our diplomacy to avoid precipitation of more dramatic and dangerous situations.
I am, however, delighted that in the debate there seems to have been agreement that the suggestion by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, that is Israel might well consider granting permission for a United Nations emergency force on her territory as well as on the other side of the border should have general acceptance. Although the withdrawal of the emergency force was precipitate, I cannot see how Israel can object to the withdrawal of a force when she has never allowed that force to occupy her territory.
I hope that the general feeling of the House will be accepted and that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will put forward these proposals as one of the bases of a possible settlement.
§ Viscount Lambton
I am not sure which side the hon. Lady is taking. Would she say whether she is on the side of the Government when they declare their belief that the waters of the Gulf of Aqaba should be open to Israeli shipping?
§ Mrs. McKay
I made my point quite clear when I said at the beginning that 169 I was glad that in concert with other nations we were seeking a common solution in the spirit of the rights to international waterways in general. If the hon. Member does not understand that, it is just too bad for him.
Throughout the debate there is common agreement on one point: that we should try to achieve a settlement by peaceful means. Our problem, however, is that no solid and concrete proposals have been placed before the House. Nor, perhaps, is it possible that they can be placed before us.
I have been wondering whether it is not possible to make some kind of bargaining points, whatever the situation. Some bargains will have to be struck, whether before war or after. Certainly, it would be far better, if possible, to put bargaining points now to President Nasser, who, I understand, is a man who likes a good bargain, in the hope that while we are trying to prevent war at least we can be trying to prevent it by objective and constructive proposals.
I wonder whether it is possible to bargain with Egypt on one or two points: for example, that entry to Eilat should be open and free to Israel, too, in return for an agreement for staggered admission of the poor refugees back to their homeland. That would be one bargaining point which might be considered. It might be naïve—I am merely a back bencher and we do not have the full facts; but it is a constructive proposal and it might be one which could be considered.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) proposed that we should invest something like £100 million in settlement of the problem of the refugees. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend knew that one of the factors of provocation in this dispute was that the United Nations has cut, or is proposing to cut, the existing very meagre allowance. I would be very happy if any means could be provided to help in this problem of assisting with the refugees.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
I follow closely and sympathetically what my hon. Friend is saying, but is it not the fact that the existence of refugees on the borders of any country is a world problem and not a problem for Israel alone?
§ Mrs. McKay
I was saying that I was in sympathy with the proposal by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South that money should be invested in the refugees. I should, however, like to correct a statement made earlier by another hon. Member that in Jordan the refugees were not allowed to work. In Jordan they must, and they do, work, because they have to contribute to the economy of the country.
I wanted to say this, in particular. War will not solve this question. There is an atmosphere in the House, it appears to me, as if the Arabs want war. No Arab wants war any more than any Israeli wants war. I say this and I know it to be true. I can quote, just as others can do, from Arabs, one of whom has stated, for instance, that one day of war would throw the Lebanon back ten years. They cannot afford it any more than Israel. They, too, are wasting on arms the resources of their country—
§ Sir B. Janner rose—
§ Mrs. McKay
—which they need for construction.
The House has been told what magnificent economic development there is in Israel. It has not yet been put before the House what magnificent economic development there is in the Arab States. Kuwait, for example, has one of the finest social welfare systems in the world. Other countries in the Arab world are developing along the same lines. None of us wants to see either Israel destroyed or the economic advancement of these other countries destroyed. It would be just as tragic for every nation, not only Israel, if there was war in the Middle East. We have to use every diplomatic manoeuvre that we can to prevent war, in everyone's interest. Eventually, the entire issue is one for the United Nations.
In the meantime, is it possible for Britain to play a greater mediating rôle? I do not know how far she has gone. None of us can know. But there is a special rôle which Britain can play at the present time, because the present Government are not tainted with the crimes of Suez and, to that extent, we have capital in the Arab world which will allow us to negotiate with them. With that at the back of our minds and, as far as possible, with Britain not taking sides, I hope that 171 we shall be able to go forward to a peaceful solution.
I do not see how anyone can imagine that either side wants war. No one wants war, because, at the end, it will not be Israel alone which will be destroyed, but the Arab States as well. The only people who will gain are those who are manoeuvring behind the scenes, trying to get through to Africa, and who are responsible for so many of the troubles in the Middle East. We do not want to see in the Middle East any parallel with the Baltic States, nor do we want another Hungary, but that is the only outcome unless a solution is obtained by peaceful means.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Sir Henry d'Avigdor-Goldsmid (Walsall, South)
The hon. Member for Clapham (Mrs. McKay) described herself as the devil's advocate. I must say that the devil finds very charming advocates, though not always very persuasive ones. There are one or two points in her speech which I wish to take up with her, because I am sure that she did not intend to mislead the House.
The famous White Paper of 1939 was rejected by the Arabs, and the Jews in Israel had no say in the matter. Whatever was the origin of the dispute, it has been entirely overclouded by the past holocaust and the years following it. As the hon. Lady will understand, that has left a wound with the Jewish survivors. It was a traumatic experience and is something which cannot be washed out simply because it happened a number of years ago. An enormous slice has been taken out of all Jewish life, and this traumatic experience will remain with the Jews for a generation yet.
I want to tell the hon. Lady that I have been responsible over the last 18 years for dealing with heirless Jewish property in Germany. The concept of heirless property is unknown to Christian communities. The fact is that the heirless Jewish property in Germany affected every family which had lived in that country. If he survived himself, every Jew who lived in Germany or in the countries surrounding her could number a member of his family in that holocaust. When dealing with Jewish people today, 172 the hon. Lady must remember that they have that experience and that it is something about which they know.
One other comment which I want to make to her is that when she talks about the Arabs wishing to be on good terms with the Jews, I see exactly what she means, because I know what those terms were. If she had been to Morocco and seen the conditions in which Jews lived, she would know. It is true that they lived in perfect safety. They were protected by the Sultan. They plied their own trades and they made special contributions to his exchequer. However, they lived a life which was cut off from the rest of the Moroccan world and in conditions of great squalor and degradation. That is not a solution which the Jews of today can accept.
The problem is a double one. No one could pretend that Israel would be brought to her knees by the deprivation of the Port of Eilat for three or even six months. Other arrangements can be made for a short time. All the processes which the hon. Lady and the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) suggested of bringing in lawyers and studying the position could be considered if there was any guarantee that a legal solution would be accepted by the Egyptians. However, the Egyptians has said in categorical terms that they control these waters and that no one else shall control them.
Like the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner), I have not sat through this debate without being deeply touched by the tone of speeches from both Front and back benches which have been moving in their appreciation of the fearful dilemma which the Jewish people in Israel and outside are faced with today.
I would remind the hon. Member for Clapham that, going back in history, it has always been the ambition of the Arabs to return not to the so-called 1947 boundaries but to the position which obtained before 1917, because they want to abolish the State of Israel. It will be remembered that 1917 was the date of the Balfour Declaration and the proclamation of the Jewish National Home. The Arabs want to go back 50 years, and, if the hon. Lady reads her history, she will realise that, from the time that 173 the Jewish National Home was proclaimed, trouble between Jews and Arabs began.
Over the last 50 years, relations between Jews and Arabs have not been happy, because, historically, the Arabs regard the Jews as inferior people who should be kept in the ghetto. The Arabs are not inhuman. I am not equating Colonel Nasser with Hitler, but Arab opinion of the Jews is that they are not fit to consort with Arabs in normal life.
As I have said, we have this double problem. If it was a question only of the Gulf of Aqaba, it could be referred to a court of law. Israel could get along without it for six months or so. However, at the moment, Israel is under a very heavy menace. The invading armies surround her, and air forces have flown in from the neighbouring Arab States, waiting for the word "go". Israel is totally mobilised. She is a country with a population of 2,300,000, and every man between 20 and 40 is mobilised. That has put a fearful drain on Israeli manpower. There is no business or production going on in Israel because her whole productive force is mobilised for her defence.
How long can Israel maintain that position? It is said to be costing her £10 million a day. Israel does not possess the means of a continental Power, so anyone in the Chamber can guess about how long she can hold out at an economic cost of £10 million a day. Clearly, it is a limited period and, in that limited period, it must be made safe for Israel to demobilise. If she does not demobilise within two months, I have no doubt that Israel will face the dread arbitrament of war.
The object of the Arabs is not to go back to the 1946 boundary, but to abolish the National Home altogether. All the time gained is of value. Looking down the barrel of a machine gun for days on end does not lend enchantment to the view, and this must apply to both sides. Nevertheless, in this matter time is not on our side, and we must remember that the Israelis have lived like this for many years.
It really is an unbelievable tragedy that they who have done so much to save lives should now see them likely to be lost; that they who have built towns should now face the prospect of their 174 being destroyed; that they who have planted the crops may well see them smoking in the fields. Indeed, according to the papers, they see them smoking in the fields already.
For the last 30 years I have been involved in the creation of Jewish agricultural colonies in Israel. I have seen them grow, and I have derived infinite pleasure from seeing children and grandchildren playing their part on the land. All this may go into the melting pot, but, as I have tried to make clear to the hon. Lady the Member for Clapham—I do not think that many other people need this clarification—the Jews today, with the experience of the war behind them, are not going to attend Munich. They are not going to be at the receiving end of an act of appeasement. They will undoubtedly defend themselves.
What is the position of this country? I think that the further hon. Members are from power and office, the more clearly they are able to express themselves. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), and my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton), made the point very well. The situation can be saved by decisive action by this country in pursuit of its obligations under the guarantees that we have given in respect of the Gulf of Aqaba, even though we may divest ourselves of the three-Power pact. We have given a categorical undertaking in respect of the Gulf of Aqaba, and we must honour it. What is more, we should make it clear that we are going to do so, otherwise the game will be lost, and we shall be involved in war, with all its consequences.
If I were asked to reconstruct the situation, I would guess that when President Nasser asked the Secretary-General of the United Nations to withdraw its forces he did not expect an immediate reply. He probably thought that the withdrawal of the U.N. forces, after being argued in the Security Council and in the General Assembly, would coincide with our abandonment of our only possible base in the area, Aden. I think, therefore, that there may be some salvation in the fact that we are at least in a position to honour the pledge that we gave about the Gulf of Aqaba, if we so desire. If this situation had arisen a year later, and we had lost Aden, we could not have 175 honoured that pledge, and there would have been no hope at all. That is the one gleam of hope.
In 1948, when the State of Israel was proclaimed, it was invaded by Arabs from all sides. The Israelis fought back with a minimum of weapons, and the Arabs were defeated. The State of Israel was then recognised by Russia and the United States, and the rest of the nations followed. In 1956, Russia and America put an end to the Suez attack. I pray that if Russia and America combine again they will do so before war breaks out, and not wait until it has started. But I am not despondent. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. Next year we shall celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the proclamation of the State of Israel, and I expect to be there for it.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)
In intervening in this debate, I must declare a constituency interest, in that I have the honour to represent the largest oil port in the country. The economy of many of my constituents—and indeed their lives—is closely associated with many of the oil-producing Arab States, and we have an extremely good relationship with them. People come and go. They live their lives there for a period and then come back to my constituency, and vice-versa.
I hope that none of the few words with which I shall detain the House will be interpreted as an expression of the views of any of the oil companies, separately or collectively. Indeed, the broad view of the oil companies is that they can survive regardless of the political situation. I am not sure that this is a sound appraisal of the situation, and it is on more sound lines that I hope to direct my remarks.
I propose to say a few words about the changed circumstances in the Middle East since the war, then to say something about some of the dangers which are implicit in the situation, and then to speak about what I consider to be Her Majesty's Government's specific responsibility in this matter.
There have been a number of remarkable changes in the Middle East during 176 the last twenty years. The first has been the emergence of Arab nationalism. This is not unique to the Middle East. It has happened all over the world amongst emergent countries, but nevertheless this locomotive to nationalism has pulled very strongly in this area.
Secondly, there has been the injection of the State of Israel into this area, which has inflamed this nationalism still further. We heard a very moving speech by the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) just now, which followed an equally moving speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mrs. McKay), and we heard my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) but I do not approach the matter from their specific points of view. It is not a question of being pro-Jewish or pro-Arab. It is a. question of the appraisal of the situation. And whether one wants the State of Israel to exist or not, the fact is that it does and, as one hon. Gentleman opposite said, it is no longer a negotiable factor. It is there, and we have to come to terms with it. One may have sympathy with the Arabs in their feelings of resentment, but the State of Israel is there and we have to recognise the implications of it.
The third major change has been the sudden emergence of the great wealth which has been generated by the oil revenues. These have transformed the political and economic climate, and the prizes available in the Middle East for predatory movements. This new factor has changed the situation very considerably indeed. Many people think of the oil States as being poor. Some of them are, but others are extremely rich. As my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham said, Kuwait has the finest social service in the world, and it spends three times as much on the education of its children as is spent by this country or the United States. When one talks about giving them aid and assistance, one has to realise that they may be very much richer per capita than we are.
Finally, there is a new and more recent factor which has emerged in Middle Eastern affairs. It is the gradual replacement in the power vacuum which has been left behind by the British Government as they have retreated from position to position by the Soviet Union. We have seen the defence agreement with Iraq. We 177 have seen the defence and economic agreements with Egypt. We have seen the building of the Aswan Dam. Some of the ineptness of Western policy has contributed to this, but these are the factors. There has been the recent arrangement with Syria. Although there was a power vacuum in the Middle East at one time, it is very nearly filled today by the Soviet Union. We must take note of the implications of this fact in the policies which we propose to follow in the future.
The Leader of the Opposition said that we should try to lift this discussion out of the narrow question of the Israeli-Arab conflict and look at the wider questions of the Middle East. That is absolutely right. It was implicit in the speech of the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), with every word of which I agreed. We cannot split the Middle East into separate compartments. The struggle for power in the Arab world, the emergence of Col. Nasser as the Leader of Arab nationalism, and his attempts to sustain his position as the leader, are just as relevant to the situation in South Arabia as to the conflict with Israel. We therefore have to take a wider look.
What will happen if we proceed as we are at the moment? The first fact we must remember is that Col. Nasser has won his first objectives. It is not incumbent upon him to take any new action. The responsibility for the initiation of action rests with the Jews or with other countries and not with Nasser. He is in a very strong position so long as others are not prepared to take action.
What will happen? As the right hon. Member for Streatham said, Nasser has won the first round, but, as was implied by the hon. Member for Walsall, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West, this cannot be the only round. Unless the Western Powers are prepared to take action to ensure the freedom of shipping in the Gulf of Aqaba the Jews will have to take action and, as the hon. Member for Walsall, South said, there is a time limit, and it is running out. The longer action is delayed the greater the danger will be.
The newspapers this afternoon refer to the Prime Minister's extreme caution. I am in favour of caution. I applaud what my right hon. Friend said in his statement last week about the freedom of 178 shipping in the Gulf of Aqaba. But that caution, not only in respect of Her Majesty's Government but the United States Government, cannot be expressed in the form of inaction without the greatest dangers being involved. We must face that fact. Inaction is as bad as wrong action, and it could have dire consequences.
What happens in respect of our specific responsibility? We are gradually withdrawing from different parts of the world, but at the moment we are one of the two major Western Powers in the Middle East. We may not be in the Middle East indefinitely, but we are there tonight. We have substantial military stores and equipment in Cyprus. We have an aircraft carrier at either end of the Suez Canal. We have considerable naval forces in the Red Sea. We have considerable military equipment, strength, and aircraft available in Aden. Therefore, whether we like it or not, we have power in the area at the moment, and the responsibility that goes with that power. If we do not take action a heavy responsibility may lie upon us.
As was implicit in the Foreign Secretary's remarks today, steps must be taken to ensure free shipping within the Gulf of Aqaba. There can be no compromise about this. If we compromise we are lost. There has been an agreement since 1957. People tend to forget that the freedom of shipping in this Gulf came as a quid pro quo because of the ban on the passage of Israeli shipping through the Suez Canal. It was part of the original agreement that was reached.
I have listened to most of the speeches in the debate and from them, as well as from my sensing of opinion in this country, I say that Her Majesty's Government will have the fullest possible support of the British people if they take a determined line in ensuring that this Gulf remains free. There can be no compromise about this. Although it involves risks, the risks must be faced. There is no alternative. There are times when we have to choose, and this is a time when we have to choose to do what we consider to be best in the long-term interests of the area. We must be prepared to accept the risks.
But that is only the first stage. I now refer to the position of Her Majesty's 179 Government in Aden. The right hon. Member for Streatham referred to it. The case is now patently clear for our reconsideration of the form of military guarantee that we give on the British withdrawal from Aden. We have tried to work with Colonel Nasser. I remember the days when there was a conflict in the Cabinet of the party opposite, when Sir Anthony Eden—as he then was—sought to make an agreement with Nasser over Suez. He was a protagonist of the agreement with Nasser.
People tend to forget this, just as they forget that there was a time when Churchill sat like a Buddha at the Cabinet table objecting to any agreement. Finally, Sir Anthony Eden had his way and the Anglo-Egyptian agreement on Suez was signed. I was one of only two Members of my party who voted for the agreement. The other has moved to another place. This was a strange trio. The agreement was negotiated by Sir Anthony Eden and supported by Lord Brockway, as he now is, and myself. One could not have a stranger trio than that.
Then Sir Anthony Eden found that he could not work with Nasser, and the Labour Party thought that because we had not been associated with Suez we would find it easier to work with the Egyptian régime. Have we found this to be the case? Are the words emanating from Cairo today any more moderate than they were several years ago? Not a hope! We must recognise that if we leave the South Arabian Peninsula in a few months' time without making adequate arrangements for stability a heavy responsibility will rest upon us.
There is no point in agreeing to grant freedom to countries unless we are prepared to see that that freedom is not transient. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary disagreed with me the other day on this point, but what is the objection to undertaking a credible military guarantee to the new South Arabian State—not indefinitely but just so long as Egyptian troops remain in the Yemen? The first objection that I have heard is that there would be pressure from the Left Wing of the Labour Party. I do not believe this to be the case. In the last few months my hon. Friends have shown themselves to be very tame animals.
180 There is the economic argument. I have heard this cash accounting case put forward on a number of occasions. Let us consider it. What is the cost of the Aden base? It is not more than £20 million a year. On the Prime Minister's own admission in the House not long ago the revenues that the Treasury receive in respect of oil from the Persian Gulf amount to over £200 million a year. With revenues of that kind the Treasury's total income in the sterling area must be at least £500 million a year. Then there are the sterling balances held by the Arab States, which are well in excess of £500 million. What would be the consequence of their withdrawal for our economy? I am considering this purely on a cash accounting basis. On top of all this there is the Western investment in the Gulf, for which the area's stability is essential, and which is well in excess of £2,000 million. So much for the economic argument. It perishes overnight.
Another argument implicit in my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's speech was contained in his remark that freedom was not guaranteed by foreign troops. I wonder. It is, and history shows that it has been. The background to this thinking is that it will always be successfully resolved by the people in the area—this takes no account of the presence of fifty to sixty thousand foreign troops in the area already—and, somehow, without our being involved. "A far away country of which we know little" is the background of this kind of absolution of political responsibility for this nation. We must never return to that, because this country and this House would then deservedly receive the opprobrium of future generations for gross irresponsibility.
The question is whether the Government are prepared to show the will to contribute substantially, as they can do, to the solution of this crisis by a resolute stand, or whether this Government and this nation have lost their stomach for world affairs. I do not believe that they have, and I do not believe that the Government can possibly turn their backs on this vital responsibility in this vital part of the world.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour (Norfolk, Central)
I will not follow the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) into his 181 argument with his hon. Friends about whether or not we should keep forces east of Suez, but would like to return to an earlier remark of his, that unless freedom of navigation is protected "the Jews will have to take action". That echoed what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) about the restraint of the Israelis, by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton), and others. This is an odd assumption. Why should we think that it is very restrained for someone not to start an aggressive war which may set the whole world alight? This is the consequence of having got this crisis out of perspective and of looking at the Gulf of Aqaba in isolation.
To borrow a phrase of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, we should lift this crisis out of its isolation and treat it as part of the Middle East as a whole. The general history, the orthodoxy, outlined by most speakers seems to assume that history in the Middle East began in 1957 and that because there has been freedom of navigation since then, that should remain the status quo and that, if that status quo is not reverted to, the Zionists have every right to start an aggressive war.
This ignores a large number of facts, for instance, that the general status quo is heavily in Israel's favour. After all, 1 million Arab refugees are outside their country. In a very moving and eloquent speech, I was only sorry that the right hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) made some extremely ungracious remarks about those refugees. All they want to do is to return to Palestine, which is something for which any Zionist ought to have considerable respect. To suggest that they are pawns and do not want to return to their homes is a travesty of the truth. People who think that should visit some of these camps.
The basic point is that the status quo in the Middle East is in favour of Israel. It has now been altered in one respect against Israel's interests by the closing of the Gulf of Aqaba, but why that should automatically produce the assumption that Israel has the right to embroil the whole of the Middle East and, very likely, the whole world, in a war, has not yet been explained.
182 They have no excuse to start an aggression of that kind. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor Goldsmid) that the situation is probably expensive for Israel at present, but he would probably agree that in her mobilisation Israel is probably receiving help from the United States in return for not starting a war—
Sir H. d'Avigdor Goldsmid
My hon. Friend said that I would agree with him that Israel is getting help from the United States. I should be delighted to agree if I knew anything about it. I have no evidence that this is happening, but would be grateful to hear it from my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Gilmour
I have no evidence, because I have not consulted about the matter, but I think that it is a reasonable assumption.
But why, then, should we concentrate our attention in this crisis on the Gulf of Aqaba? We talk about the rights of maritime Powers, but our efforts throughout our history have been to preserve the rights of maritime Powers at war to take certain steps against the shipping of other countries. This is, therefore, a considerable turnabout for us.
To say that a pledge is a pledge for all time and that what was said in 1957, that we must regard the Gulf of Aqaba as an international waterway, should always apply, is invalid. But, anyway, the question is: should we do anything about it? In 1917 when this whole matter began, we, basically, gave away someone else's country to a third party. This has had some happy results and many unhappy ones. Equally, it is not within our power or right to give away someone else's waters in 1957 and maintain that because we say so, they are now an international waterway.
I do not know the exact legal case. Egypt may be acting contrary to international law, but I have not heard this argument put very cogently or definitely and I have great doubts about it—
§ Mr. James Davidson (Aberdeenshire, West)
I do not know how it can possibly be maintained that it is anything but an international waterway, when the entrance is shared by two nations—Saudi 183 Arabia and Egypt—because their territorial waters overlap, by anyone's calculations, and when the two ports in the Gulf belong to two additional nations. Since four nations share the water, how can it be anything but an international waterway?
§ Mr. Gilmour
—he would be aware that that point has already been made.
We all know the geography of the Gulf of Aqaba. It goes through Egyptian territorial waters. Egypt claims that it is at war, and it is generally thought that a country has a right to stop its enemies going through its territorial waters. Whether or not the United Nations can say that a country is no longer at war I do not know, but it is thought that there is something generally belligerent about relations between Egypt and Israel. Otherwise, Israeli ships would be allowed through the Suez Canal without molestation. No one says that it is illegal that they are not allowed through. Therefore, it is far from certain that the international case on the Gulf of Aqaba stands up.
In this crisis, the Government should first of all look back beyond 1957, when they would see the Israeli-Arab problem in a different light. My right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham said that he did not think that this was the basis of the trouble and he added that Arab countries had been forced to support President Nasser in this crisis; but he thereby destroyed his earlier contention. If this was not the basis of Middle Eastern politics, Saudi Arabia, King Hussein, and the Sheikh of Kuwait would not have had to rush to support Egypt, for whom most of the time they have little love.
Thus, the Government should look backwards in time and wider in place if they are to have a useful part to play in this crisis. I hope that their negotiations about the Gulf of Aqaba will succeed, but I am bound to say that I am doubtful about this. I suggest that by far the most useful part this country can play is to go for a general Middle Eastern settlement of a fairly radical kind.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Colin Jackson (Brighouse and Spenborough)
I was in sympathy with many of the comments of the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) in his analysis of the Aqaba situation. While I am sure that others will not agree with his view, it will be generally agreed that the tone of his speech set a mood to the debate which has been somewhat lacking. As I have listened to this discussion, I have often been filled with deep unhappiness that we seem to be reflecting in the House so much of the bitterness, disappointment and lack of understanding of the problem and of the place—the problem between Arab and Jew in the Middle East.
It is impossible for any hon. Member to make any remarks that could possibly be considered a reflection on the people who now live in the modern State of Israel. It is equally impossible for us, with our background of hostility towards the sort of things done against the Jews, to say anything which would seem to be critical of the conduct of the Jewish people in Israel. For example, I was glad to discover that no hon. Member was dreaming of criticising the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner), although I was distressed to find that when my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. Will Griffiths) attempted to put the point of view of the Arab nations there were turbulent and violent interruptions of an unsympathetic character which added nothing to the debate or to our understanding of the problem. They simply tended to alienate my feelings, feelings which I attempt to apply with logic, reason and understanding. Indeed, I was almost driven away from the cause of Israel by the violent nature of the attacks and comments and the cheap criticisms about the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Exchange.
I will attempt—and I wonder what will happen this time—to express the attitude of the Arab peoples as an element in this crisis. I do so not because we have to agree with it but as a factor in the crisis. After all, unless we understand it, we cannot move towards a solution. At the same time, we must consider the views of the people with whom I have the utmost sympathy, the people of Israel; and if ever there was a democracy 185 in which people can live together in free understanding, certainly such a democracy exists in the State of Israel today.
I put the Arab point of view based on conversations I have had with vast numbers of Arab people, from Morocco to the Persian Gulf. They say, for example, "We did not persecute the Jews in Europe. We should not be obliged to expiate the sins of the European people. We did not massacre the people in Poland. Why should we, as Arabs, pay the penalty?" Many of the Arabs with whom I have spoken—people of President Nasser's variety, good or bad—have said to me, "Israel is now a place where Western Europeans have come to stay, just as Western Europeans went to Rhodesia and as Frenchmen went to Algeria." They ask, "Why should they?"
Most hon. Members will say that the Jews are entitled to their homeland, but to the Arabs this is happening after a very long time. The Arabs say, "Europe for the Europeans. Britain to the Commonwealth and America to Texas. But this is the Arab Muslim part of the world and we have been put upon by the Balfour Declaration and by agreements subsequent to the Second World War."
In most of the arguments put today hon. Members have tended to ignore this basic dilemma of the feeling of the Arabs. I am extremely gloomy about the future because, having carefully watched the Middle East for the last 10 years, I have found that feelings between young Israelis and young Arabs have been growing wider. The young Arab student is taught to loath and hate the Israeli in a way in which the young Arab was never taught during the time of the mandate of Palestine to hate and loath the Jew. Equally, I was distressed, when giving a lecture there, to hear the comments of young Israelis about the people of Jordan and Lebanon, comments which struck me, almost fantastically, to be a herrenvolk in reverse.
We are, therefore, in this whole discussion, speaking against a background of bitter and almost irreconcilable attitudes. As he hon. Member for Norfolk, Central said about the international waterways question, the House appears to be talking post-1957. From the point of view of the Arab States, we should be 186 considering two points; first, that Eliat was moved into after the Israel-Egypt armistice and, secondly, that as a result of the Israeli action of 1956, Israel was rewarded with the opening of the Tiran Straits. When looking for a solution to this problem, I say frankly that I do not see the question of free passage through the Straits as being one of very long duration. We therefore need to consider this matter as a point in dispute and I wish to put forward a number of constructive suggestions against tins background of bitterness.
I sometimes feel about hon. Gentlemen opposite that, with honourable exceptions, they are so obsessed with their hatred of Nasser and the sins of 1956 that they cannot give a rational answer to the situation which exists today. If there were no President Nasser in Egypt, the leader, whoever he might be, would be the spokesman for Arab nationalism. He would be anti-Israel and difficult for us to handle. To suggest that one can have a sort of bogeyman and that, by attacking him, one can solve the problem, is being unrealistic.
Has the possibility been considered of solving the problem of the Tiran Straits by having a pattern modelled on the Montreux Convention? Being realistic in politics, we want to find an answer which will both allow President Nasser to retreat without too much loss of face and which will, at the same time, guarantee or ensure the passage of ships through the Tiran Straits. It is interesting to look at the parallel of 1935–36 in regard to the passage of vessels through the Bos-phorus, which allows Turkey to exercise its sovereignty over these waterways and to control military vessels, while other shipping can pass. If we could have some possibility of a blending of these two it might be a way out and a way which would avoid a head-on clash.
Two weeks ago I was in New York talking to Dr. Ralph Bunch. The question of United Nations observers as an element to prevent conflict between the Arab States and Israel came up. At that time I was particularly interested in the situation along the Syrian-Israel frontier because it seemed that that was the most dangerous point.
Bearing in mind that the Soviet Union and the United States must realise that if this problem is not solved we could 187 drift into World War III, could we not, through the United Nations, take a fresh look at the whole question of observers? The pessimists can easily say that observers can be placed there only with the permission of the parties concerned, and that the difficulty is that the Lake Tiberias area remains a problem, but if we could have some kind of United Nations trip-wire between the two opposing factions that seem, in a strange, macabre fashion, to be like lemmings as they rush to distraction, we might almost save them from themselves. I should have thought that in those circumstances Israel should look again at the possibility of accepting United Nations troops. If her boundaries are to be kept intact, one of the best guarantees would be to have United Nations personnel within the area.
Thinking again in terms of trying to ease the problem, and bearing in mind the basic clash between the two sides, we might look again at the problem of the Palestinian refugees. It is really not enough to say that they are simply there as pawns in a game. I can think of young Arabs, personal acquaintances of mine, just outside Jerusalem in refugee accommodation. They will take a visitor outside and say to him, "Across the valley there is my house where I was born. There is the tree under which I used to sit. There is the window out of which I looked from my family home. Now I have nothing to do but wait and hate." Some of these refugees have been moved to Kuwait, some have jobs in Jericho, and Amman, but the others are literally rotting. An effort could be made within the United Nations structure either to encourage technical training, for example, throughout the Arab world—make a move in that direction—or to ask Israel again whether she is prepared to accept a limited number of the Palestinian refugees.
There is not very much time left. It has already been said that with the expenditure of this war Israel's position is desperately curtailed. The Arab nations are not likely simply to forget the threat of Israel or forget the refugees. I believe that it is up to the British Government, as has been notably mentioned today, to keep the initiative in the United Nations, which will be a continuing initiative. They might, for example, put up as a possi- 188 bility an agreement on the Montreux Convention model. They might bring up the question of the refugees. In no circumstances, however, should we allow this situation to drift, hoping that it will go away, because unless something drastic is done it will get worse.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Dennis Walters (Westbury)
I am pleased to note that towards the end of this debate the balance has been rather altered and equalised. In the opening stages, most of the emotion was displayed on the side of Israel, and this, of course, is understandable. We had one or two very moving speeches expressing this feeling. It is understandable because of the appalling barbarities perpetrated against the Jews in Europe in the 1940s. When history is written, this will be one of the most bestial chapters in the present millenium.
However, it does not fundamentally alter the rights and wrongs of the Balfour Declaration, of the Palestine Mandate and of the Labour Government's withdrawal in 1947. It does not alter the perfectly justified sense of deep emotional grievance mentioned by the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Colin Jackson) as being felt by those Arabs who have been thrown out of their homes and cannot return. Therefore, the justification for strong emotional feeling cannot be entirely on one side. The emotional feeling on both sides is understandable, and so is the right to feel strongly.
Having said that, I must add that it is also true that the State of Israel is now a fact, and we cannot countenance its obliteration. That means that we must look at the situation as it exists now and not as it might have existed, or, as some people feel, should have existed. In this context, it is also true that for 10 years the situation between Israel and the Arab States has been smouldering, and that far too little has been done to try to achieve a more permanent settlement.
In a debate on the United Nations, on 12th May last, I said that the United Nations had intervened successfully to end the fighting in Palestine and in Cyprus, but that after that they had done very little; that the disputes that the United Nations had temporarily 189 smothered still spluttered on beneath the surface. I went on:The Security Council and the Secretary-General should surely be more energetic than at present in pressing the parties towards negotiation, in appointing mediators, or in suggesting compromises."—[OFFICIAL REPORT; 12th May, 1967; Vol. 746, c. 1903.]Occasionally, when one makes a comment in one speech that one is prepared to quote, a few weeks later there is an irresistible temptation to do so, and I am afraid that I have fallen for it.
More should have been done in the last year or two as the tension mounted, but almost exactly the opposite has been the case, and then at the first sign of acute crisis, the United Nations faded away and disappeared, almost without a murmur. It would be interesting to know why the Secretary-General of the United Nations did not go to Cairo before accepting the demand to withdraw the United Nations force. It was very right for him to go afterwards and make an attempt of pacification, but why did he not go before accepting to withdraw?
As my noble Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton) has rightly said, the outcome of this crisis will ultimately depend on what happens about the Gulf of Aqaba. As my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) has said, it may be that the legal case is not absolutely clearly defined and it may also not be a very satisfactory argument that if something is not done Israel will fight a preventive war. But as this is a fact so that if we want to prevent a war it will be necessary to act now, before the crisis develops further. The principal action must come from the United States and it is the United States which must make clear to the Soviet Union that it is prepared to act to keep the straits open because ultimately it is on the two great world Powers, that the decision will rest.
§ Dr. Hugh Gray (Yarmouth)
Is the hon. Member saying that the Gulf of Aqaba is not an international waterway and thus contradicting the Conservative Government which made the statement, the Labour Government which supported it, and the Liberal Party, which has supported the two parties? If so, will he give his reasons?
§ Mr. Walters
I am not saying that. What I said was that there is an argu- 190 ment—this point was put very effectively by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central—that if there is a state of war between Israel and Egypt then it could be legally debatable whether the Egyptians are not entitled to close the gulf. I personally do not accept that argument—
§ Mr. Walters
I am glad that the hon. Member agrees. I am not particularly delighted by this fact, but I am glad that he sees that what I am saying is that there can be an argument about it.
Ultimately, when the crisis has passed, and, I hope, has been resolved pacifically, we shall, of course, return to the other confrontations in the Middle East between the Arab countries themselves. Again it will be a question of how one deals with President Nasser. About this, while it is undeniable that, in the past, President Nasser has provided the stimulus for some of the changes and some of the advances that have been carried out by other countries in the Middle East, that this has been a positive contribution which I believe history will recognise, it is a positive side of his policy which is not very easy to see at present.
What is more, I believe that economic progress and political evolution in Iran and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have acquired a momentum of their own which will continue and the external policies of President Nasser have become more negative and more obstructive. I am not obsessed by President Nasser, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough, but I do think that the situation should be looked at objectively; and if it is looked at objectively I suggest that it would be a fair deduction that President Nasser has now set his mind quite firmly against any acceptable compromise with Britain or indeed coexistence with his evolutionary Arab neighbours.
How great a part Communist power politics are playing in this I am not sure. There is very considerable evidence that they are playing an important part. I shall not repeat the figures which have been already quoted. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed referred to the number of technicians and military advisers there. I believe that there are between 500 and 800 Russian military 191 advisers in Egypt at present. There are eight squadrons with about 12 operational planes in each squadron of MiG21s. There is a very considerable fleet concentration. All of this clearly is an immensely relevant factor in the policies pursued by President Nasser.
As I have said, although it is not possible to assess exactly how great the Communist influence is, it is not so difficult to evaluate President Nasser's present policies. I suggest that any such objective evaluation leads to the conclusion that for the present, at least, he is non-negotiable and, therefore, there is no substantial justification for approaches which will be rebuffed. Should his attitude change, and a desire for compromise become apparent, then there is no reason at all—quite the contrary—why Britain should not readily agree to negotiate. We have no imperialist ambitions and any such readiness to negotiate would be shared by other Arab countries. Saudi-Arabia, which I visited recently, would be perfectly willing, I am sure, to reach a compromise with Egypt based on non-interference in the respective spheres of influence of the two countries.
I very much hope that the Government's policy in regard to the South Arabian Federation will now be altered, because it is simply unrealistic to ignore the danger and the pressures that will be put on the Federation should we withdraw without giving a suitable guarantee. Despite the extra financial help which is being given by Britain to the Federal armed forces, there is no chance that those armed forces will be strong enough to deter outside pressure for several years to come.
Domination of Aden by Egypt would unquestionably bring about great pressure on the Gulf and bring it very much more quickly than some people seem to suppose. This will provide a serious, possibly a fatal, setback to the chances of preserving British interests in the area. It is for this reason that the Conservative Party has consistently urged the Government to guarantee the security of the Federation for a period after independence. This would not involve retaining in Aden anything like the present military establishment but a limited British commitment would be necessary even if the 192 Federal rulers in 1964 had not been assured that independence would be accompanied by a defence agreement.
As it is, this commitment is a matter of good faith as well as a matter for good sense. It could well be a limited commitment. To limit this and, at the same time, to give us a lever with which to encourage the Southern Arabians towards self-reliance, the British guarantee could be terminable after an agreed period at one year's notice by either side, but the main purpose of our commitment would be to hold the ring against outside intervention.
I have drifted away from the main scene of the present tension, because, as was mentioned by many hon. Members, and particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central, the question of tension between Israel and the Arab States should be looked upon in the general context of Middle-Eastern policy. It is only by realising that, even if we can overcome the present crisis pacifically—as we all hope is possible, and as I believe can be done, but only if we and the United States are prepared to be strong and determined at the present time—that this will be only another chapter in the history of the Middle East. We must be prepared to influence a gradual and evolutionary process of development in the Arab countries and to resist the pressures and aggressions of the President of the United Arab Republic at this time.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home (Kinross and West Perthshire)
From the start of this debate, when the Foreign Secretary made his thoughtful review of the events which have led up to the present critical situation, a review which, I think, was generally accepted by the House as being a very constructive contribution with which to open the debate, the tone of all the speeches, with, I am afraid, the notorious exception of that of the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. Will Griffiths)—the tone of all the subsequent speeches—has shown a deep awareness on the part of every right hon. and hon. Member of the deep gravity of the situation which we face and the responsibility which lies on this House, if it possibly can, to make a constructive contribution to a settlement without war.
193 Certain facts seem to me to have been clearly established by speaker after speaker. The first is that Egypt's action in expelling the United Nations force from its territory has created a situation which, under Article 39 of the Charter, is one which constitutes a threat to the peace. There can be no doubt about that. I think that there can be little doubt, too—because, with respect, I cannot accept the argument of my hon. Friend that one country has a right to declare itself at war with another and thereafter to use that situation to strangle its neighbour—that there has been a breach of international law by Egypt—a point made by my noble Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton).
Article 16—I do not rely, with all respect, on the statements of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in this House—of the Geneva conference of 1958 reads as follows:'There should be no suspension of the innocent passage of foreign ships through straits which are used for international navigation between one part of the high seas and the territorial sea of a foreign State.I think, if I may say, that the Foreign Secretary was right to put this particular action of Egypt in the Straits of Tiran in the wider context of international waterways and the need to keep them free for international shipping.
These facts, clearly, in my view, and, I think, in that of most right hon. and hon. Members, required a United Nations response, and to that I shall come in a moment, but as the debate proceeded I did notice that hon. Members noted with deep concern two further aspects of this matter. The first, that Egypt ejected the peacekeeping force of the United Nations without reference to the Secretary-General, without reference to the Security Council or the Assembly, and that the Secretary-General of the United Nations himself immediately acquiesced in this action without consulting the Council with which he is provided. That, I think the House has generally accepted, was a fateful and perhaps fatal error of judgment-There may yet be many casualties from this affair, but the melancholy fact is that the first casualty has been the United Nations itself, and it will need an immense effort, an almost superhuman effort, to restore the prestige of that organisation.
194 The House has noted, too, that the Soviet Union, a member of the United Nations, has publicly declared its support for Egypt's policy, which is proclaimed to be the extermination of another member of the United Nations, a member supported by Russia when her candidature came before the United Nations in earlier years. I shall later draw some conclusions from the actions of the Soviet Union, but that way lies international anarchy.
In short, this has been a shocking week for international co-operation, for collective security, and, generally, maintaining peacekeeping machinery.
The House has been almost united in the view that there should be a response from the United Nations, and that, ideally, this should be action authorised by the Security Council to raise the blockade in the Straits of Tiran, because this is the centre of the matter. Further, I think that the House is convinced of the urgency of the matter, particularly after the moving speech of the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner), who speaks with so much feeling on the subject.
The plain fact of the matter is—the House is clearly seized of this—that Israel simply cannot stay passive while the life is slowly squeezed out of her. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) very truly drew the attention of the House to the fact that Israel, to preserve her own independence and integrity, has had to call up all her manpower. For how long can she thus continue? Clearly, only for a limited number of weeks, or, at best, months.
Another aspect of the matter which has not escaped attention is that vacillation on the part of the United Nations, or, indeed, the very anxiety of the peace-loving nations to prevent fighting, in some sense plays into the hands of the aggressor: it allows him to complete his game. Indeed, it completes it for him. He pursues and consolidates his position, while the victim is put on its honour not to respond in kind. This is a very onesided business—grossly unfair and very dangerous to the real interests of free nations. Therefore, it places an extra obligation on Britain and other countries who give such advice to Israel to provide an alternative answer to war which is just.
195 Consequently, I suggest that two issues face us. Immediately, if no action is taken, in the very near future there will be war between Israel and Egypt at least, and this may spread far and wide in Arabia. In the longer-term consideration, if there is no action by the United Nations, that organisation itself in future will be useless in terms of security to any country anywhere, whether it is in Cyprus or anywhere else.
The Foreign Secretary called our attention, and it was timely, to the weaknesses inside the organisation—to the operation of the Russian Communist veto and to the double standards by which so many small countries blindly play the Communist game. In the past, I have sometimes called attention to these dangers. I hope, for this may be a last chance, that the members of the United Nations will take a grip on themselves and recognise that, unless the principles and the rules of the Charter are applied without fear or favour, the United Nations itself will go the way of the League of Nations.
That will be a tragedy for all mankind. The question which they and, in particular, the small nations of Africa and Asia—the newer nations—face, and which we now face, is: if the United Nations is helpless, who is to restrain aggression; or are those guilty of the breaches of international law to be given a free run?
There is only one answer if the Communist countries will not co-operate, and that is that the free nations, the democracies, with the power must take the responsibility. In this particular case, it means, I suggest—I think that again the great majority of right hon. and hon. Members will agree with this—accepting the necessity to keep open the Straits of Tiran. This is a risk, but I believe that we have concluded that it is, on the whole, a lesser risk than an Arab-Israeli war by reason of the fact that Israel is compelled to break out of the ring. The fear, unexpressed, though the Foreign Secretary hinted at it, at the back of everyone's mind is whether, if such action is taken, the war will escalate into a confrontation ending with the United States of America and the Soviet Union finding themselves fighting each other.
No one who has studied the history of the Middle East in recent years will be 196 surprised that the Foreign Secretary hinted that, behind the immediate moves, attempts are being made, as he put it—I think I do not misquote his words—to change the strategic balance of power in the world. Some months ago, I drew the attention of the House to the Soviet Government's activities in the Middle East over the past few years, which seemed to me to have a design and pattern very dangerous for the peace of that area and, perhaps, of the world.
Clearly, they were using Egypt's ambitions as an instrument to achieve their own political ends. They have helped to finance the Yemen war and the liberation army in South Yemen. They have given substantial quantities of arms to Syria, the traditional focus of political turbulence in the area. They have lately—this may have escaped notice—given large quantities of wheat to Egypt to make Egypt independent of American aid.
§ Mr. Will Griffiths rose—
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home
No I should like to conclude this part of what I have to say, and I am not particularly inclined to give way to the hon. Gentleman, either. He was not here when I made a reference to him a little earlier.
The Soviet Government, as I say, have given consignments of wheat to Egypt to make Egypt independent of the United States. They have given significant supplies of arms to Somalia. There can be no purpose in this other than mischief, either with Kenya or against the day when the Emperor of Ethiopia dies and the Russians anticipate political trouble in that area. On every occasion, they have fanned the emotional hatred of Arab and Muslim for the Jews. These are political acts which I would expect from the Soviet Government. In their consistent search for world revolution, they always go for the soft spot. This has been apparent for some time.
If, through the confusion arising from the Arabs and Jews standing to arms, Egypt could be helped to succeed Britain in Aden and, as a result, the Soviet Union could achieve a political presence in Aden and Somalia, from which it would have the option to turn either to the Persian Gulf or into Africa, it would have achieved a political coup of the first importance in a vital strategic area of the world, and 197 it would, in the Foreign Secretary's words, change the balance of world power.
The Foreign Secretary cannot say these things. Perhaps I can, and they ought to be said. We must face the realities of this situation.
§ Mr. Will Griffiths rose—
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home
The Soviet Union having taken this political action, does it follow that, if the Straits of Tiran are kept open for international shipping, the Soviet Union would intervene? It is possible, I believe—the Foreign Secretary will know this better than I—that both Egypt and the Soviet Union miscalculated on the speed of the United Nations withdrawal, which no one could have foreseen and that, therefore, the rapidly developing crisis and confrontation between Arab and Jew came faster upon them than they thought it would.
If that is so, there is possibly some hope that the Soviet Union will exercise influence on the side of caution. But, leaving those considerations aside, it is not the Soviet Communist method to go for direct confrontation, least of all with the United States. Their method is to cause the maximum amount of political confusion with the minimum deployment of power. Their actions in Cuba, Berlin and Vietnam confirm that diagnosis. Of course, there is a risk, but so far the moves which the Soviet Union has made politically in the Middle East are strictly according to the Communists' book, which is to attain their political objective and advantage by subversion, stealth and attrition.
Against that background what should be done? The hon. Member for Clapham (Mrs. McKay) made an emotional speech. I could not agree with many of her remedies, but, nevertheless, the first thing which should be done is precisely what the Foreign Secretary is trying to do—to get a negotiated settlement. I do not, in this context, ignore the possibilities that, behind the scenes, the four Powers-France, the United States, Britain and Russia—may be able, or ought to, at any rate, to come to some agreement. The attempt should be made.
The second move should be to try and get the United Nations force restored to the area and possibly on both sides of 198 the frontier. This is worth considering. But, certainly—because this is the centre of the whole problem—authority should be given by the Security Council for a force to keep the Gulf of Aqaba free of mines and to protect international shipping on its lawul occasions.
I hope that events will not prove that this is only being said for the record, but I am afraid that they may. If the United Nations fails us—and the Foreign Secretary himself was bound to talk in this possible context—then what is to be done? There is, in effect, only one alternative: that the maritime Powers, inevitably led by the United States and Britain, but, I would hope, including Canada, perhaps one of the Scandinavian countries and, for example, the Dutch, would themselves undertake the task.
The Foreign Secretary must be right when he says that this policing of the Gulf of Aqaba and the assurance of free passage for international shipping is at the centre of the matter. Therefore, it is right to make, or seek to get, a positive and firm declaration that the Gulf and the Straits will be kept open. I would stress again and again the absolute importance of the time factor. Unless there is assurance of rapid action following a firm declaration, then Israel must break out of the ring.
It would not be reasonable, and I have no intention of doing so, to press the Prime Minister as to how the Gulf and the Straits should be kept open. It is not a proper time to do that. He is going to see Mr. Johnson and Mr. Pearson and I hope that, as a result of those visits, not only a firm declaration will be made but that there will be a firm declaration that action will be taken. That, I believe, is the only way to save the peace.
Therefore, with all the risks, with a sober and full sense of responsibility, I believe that the majority of hon. Members are clear that this duty at least must be undertaken. Mention has been made of Munich and of Suez. Lessons can be learnt from both these events. I myself have learnt the lesson at least from Munich that, if a dictator gets away with loot, the penalty we pay the second time is double or more.
The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary can, therefore, rely on the full support of this side of the House in the 199 course which the Foreign Secretary outlined. I believe that this is the right course lest our children pay the price of total war.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)
The tone in which the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) has spoken has been in harmony with the tone adopted right through the debate. The gravity with which the whole House has approached this debate has shown that it was right, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said, for the Government to propose that our prearranged Parliamentary programme should be altered so that the whole House could express its concern about the situation which developed with such dramatic and startling speed during the Recess.
The debate has been inevitably serious and sombre, but it has been more than that: it has been constructive and it has been determined. I do not propose tonight to go over the ground which was so fully covered by my right hon. Friend this afternoon. His analysis and interpretation have been widely recognised by the House as fair and judicious, and there has been a general desire in the speeches which have followed to support him in keeping the international temperature down, so far as that is possible in this situation. So I shall not attempt to go over the same ground, whether the events of the past three or four weeks, or the wider historical setting in which my right hon. Friend placed this present confrontation.
I think that I am summing up the mood of the House today and the vast majority of speeches—although, as the right hon. Gentleman said, there have been two or three on both sides which have taken a line different from this—when I say that there is no attempt to take sides, either in terms of support, or in terms of condemnation. The whole House feels—and in this I take account of the very serious and constructive approach of so many who have spoken—that, as the right hon. Gentleman has just said, Britain has an important rôle to play in securing peace and in securing an honourable negotiated settlement. I think that it has been recognised throughout the debate that that rôle can best be ful- 200 filled not on the basis of dramatic declarations but on patient diplomacy, seeking to influence others and, as occasion offers, to influence others to take initiatives which in other circumstances we might have felt it right to take ourselves.
For this reason, and again following my right hon. Friend, while there is a great deal which all of us on this Bench would like to say, as the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman very fairly recognised, there are things which are best not said if we want to get the result which we want.
What we have today is not conflict but confrontation, not a breach of the peace but a deep and dangerous threat to peace. This confrontation and the dangers which it presents are on two levels. As so many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have said, including the Leader of the Opposition, there is first confrontation along hundreds of miles of land frontier between Israel and Arab countries. Aircraft and naval units are in a state of instant readiness. Indeed, one of the great dangers last weekend was the fears of one side of a pre-emptive strike by the other.
Nor is it solely Israel and Egypt, or Israel on the one hand and Egypt and Syria on the other. Arab States which have been deeply divided on ideological grounds and grounds of national interest one with another have suddenly made common cause, burying, for the moment at least, their differences in new-found unity directed against their old enemy, Israel. In some respect—and this adds to the dangers—this confrontation has all the dangers and characteristics of a holy war.
It is not only for that reason that this confrontation is so dangerous. In the past, wars have been threatened and wars have been fought between sovereign States who, recognising one another's existence and recognising one and another's right to exist, nevertheless had deep differences of national interest or imagined national interest, claims on territory, or claims of persecution of ethnic minorities, or whatever it might be, and those feelings have led to war. But the characteristic of this situation is the declared aim of one side not to win concessions from the other. Their demand is that Israel should cease to exist—indeed has never existed.
201 But there is a still deeper danger which every speaker in the debate has recognised. The Leader of the Opposition—I made the same point outside the House—felt that if we are to seek in any sense an historical analogy—there have been references to Munich, Suez and the rest—that analogy is to be found, not in the events of 1956 or anywhere in the history of the Middle East, but in the Cuba confrontation of 1962. I think that both of us are right in feeling that even that analogy is not complete. The Cuban situation was dramatically described at the time, rightly, as an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation of the two super-Powers. with all the dangers that that confrontation presented of a thermo-nuclear holocaust.
As both the opening speakers and most of those who have followed have made clear today, the statements, commitments and postures of powerful outside countries with a vital interest in the Middle East suggest that a local conflict, disastrous and brutal though that would be, might quickly escalate into a still more tragic war whose consequences could engulf the whole world. But there are, as I think we all recognise, important differences from the Cuba situation—differences on the favourable side. There is, I think, the clear desire and determination on all sides to urge restraint and to prevent the first fatal step from being taken by either side.
No one will doubt the sincerity with which the United States, we ourselves and France have urged the maximum restraint during this past week, whatever provocation might have been thought to exist. Equally, I fully accept—indeed my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was given evidence of this on his visit to Moscow last week—the sincerity of the Soviet Union in desiring and urging restraint at this critical time. Here at least we have common ground which, despite all disappointments—disappointments about the fate of the French President's proposal for four-Power talks—could provide a basis for co-operation and consultation between the four great Powers to help all concerned to work their way towards a negotiated and honourable settlement. We have urged—and I was glad that the Leader of the Opposition supported this today—that the United Nations presents, or might present, the right forum for quadripartite 202 co-operation of this kind to begin. I am less sure that the right hon. Gentleman was right in suggesting that such co-operation might be more productive or perhaps easier to get off the ground if the aim of the four-Power talks at the United Nations were to be an attack on wider world problems, including, as I suspect he had in mind, dangers in the Far East as well as the Middle East. I should like to feel that this was so and was right.
We for our part have proved that we are as anxious to secure an end to the fighting in Vietnam and to get the parties there to the conference table as we are to prevent fighting in the Middle East and get the parties there to the conference table. We shall continue to pursue peace in Vietnam with all the energy and imagination of which we are capable. Nothing that has happened in the Middle East in the last two or three weeks has made that less urgent. But to widen the area of peace-keeping, as I thought the right hon. Gentleman was perhaps suggesting, might lead to delay in dealing with the desperately critical and urgent situation in the Middle East. Indeed, it might even provide opportunities for delay for those who might welcome them.
While we must hope and feel that we now have a short breathing space—that view has been expressed on both sides today—and while every minute of that short breathing space must be used to work for peace—while that must be our hope—time is certainly not on the side of peace.
That brings us to the other difference from the Cuba situation. Cuba, dangerous though it was—the right hon. Gentleman made the same point this afternoon—was a situation uniquely within the control of the two nuclear protagonists. Either of them had it in its power to call a halt to the actions on the high seas which were bringing war nearer. One could have called the ships back and the other could have dropped the proposals for the quarantine. In the end, it was the supreme statesmanship of both sides, the give and take, which meant that action was taken on both sides and that the danger was averted.
In the Middle East crisis, however, the great Powers which are concerned, and, indeed, who are committed by their statements, are not in complete control 203 of the situation because the action of countries on the spot, those to whom commitments have been made—on the Arab side, not necessarily one country—or a dangerous border incident coming from either side—either of these things could trigger off conflagration and involve the great Powers.
I want now to turn to what has been the central theme of the debate, as it is the central theme of the danger which we face, and that is the central theme of the search for peace. This is the threat to the right of innocent passage through the Straits of Tiran. I say "the threat to the right of innocent passage" because up to this moment the Straits remain open. Hon. Members who have talked of reopening the Straits rather than keeping them open, which, I think, is the right phrase, could perhaps tend to overstate the present position and thereby possibly make a solution just that bit more difficult.
Hon. Member after hon. Member from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary onwards has stressed that the ten years since the time when Mr. Hammarskjoeld negotiated the settlement that led to the withdrawal of the Israeli troops from the Sharm el Sheikh area and the debate which followed in the General Assembly in March, 1957, have been years of free movement through the Straits.
Again, and I know that the right hon. Gentleman will not object to my making the point, while that was, as he suggested, partly due to the stationing of the U.N.E.F. force in Sharm el Sheikh, that was not the only reason for continued freedom of passage because, quite apart from what happened to the battery there, as recent events have made plain, shipping could have been interfered with in other ways whoever held the battery, but it was not interfered with.
The position of Her Majesty's Government about the freedom of passage I made clear about a week ago in a speech in the country, and this was repeated by my right hon. Friend this afternoon. It repeated the statement that was made on behalf of Britain in the General Assembly debate ten years ago. It remains our position, and the Government today have been encouraged by the very wide sup- 204 port given to it by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House.
It is through the United Nations that, in the first instance, we shall seek to secure acceptance of the principle that was laid down. It is through the United Nations that, in the first instance, we shall seek to get effective agreement on the part of all concerned to see that that principle continues to hold good and that the right of the international waterway is maintained.
Here again, I very much agreed with the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire when he expressed agreement with my right hon. Friend that this problem is best looked at, not as a special localised problem, but as part of a much wider internationally-agreed conception of the freedom of passage through international waterways.
Doubts have been thrown this evening on the question of whether there is a legal right of free passage. Those who have the duty of advising Her Majesty's Government in this matter are in no doubt whatever that this is an international waterway, and that the right of free passage for innocent vessels through that waterway does not derive in any sense from the agreement registered by Mr. Hammarskjoeld in 1957, or from anything that was said at the General Assembly in that year, that this right is a right inherent in the situation of the Straits as part of a much wider international agreement. My right hon. Friend made clear that, with the present deep division within the Security Council, there can be no guarantee that a satisfactory arrangement will be concluded and made effective.
Perhaps here I should reply to the point with which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition asked me to deal. He took up the words of my right hon. Friend today about what our attitude would be in the event of a failure to secure an equitable settlement. The words which my right hon. Friend used were these:We could not be satisfied with a situation in which a numerical majority are satisfied with an inequitable settlement which will merely ensure that an Arab-Israel war is inevitable sooner or later".The right hon. Gentleman asked whether, given such a situation, that implied an intention to use the veto or, if not, what other action might be appropriate.
205 This is not the right moment at which to anticipate what will happen, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it would be unwise and perhaps unhelpful if I were now to try and forecast either the situation which might arise or what the appropriate action might be in any particular circumstances. We might be faced at the Security Council, for example, with a situation where the hopes of an equitable settlement were frustrated by a veto used against such a settlement. We might face a situation where there was a majority in favour but not an adequate majority in terms of the requirements of Security Council procedures. We might face a situation where there was no majority at all. Again, we might face a situation where there was general agreement on a resolution, but on a resolution which did not go far enough to secure the right objective, in which case we should have to try again. That is what my right hon. Friend had in mind.
At this stage, it is impossible also to forecast, whatever present disappointments there have been about the fate of the proposals of the President of France for four-Power talks, what prospects there might be of discussion between the four great Powers in this context, which has been proposed, which so far has fallen on stony ground, but which will be pressed with the very warmest support from Her Majesty's Government.
What my right hon. Friend was urging, with very strong support from all parts of the House, was that, as I have said, time not being on the side of peace, it is our duty to extend our diplomatic activity beyond what we are now trying to do in the Security Council; for example, as he said, by our contacts with other maritime countries which share with us a vital interest in the freedom of the seas.
While, so far as the Security Council is concerned, our position has been made clear in New York and while we shall continue to press it there, above all, I feel that our decision was right to consult with other like-minded nations—and here I am thinking of the maritime nations—about the issuing of a clear declaration by the international maritime community that the Gulf of Aqaba is an international waterway and that the Straits of Tiran do provide an inter- 206 national waterway into which and through which the vessels of all nations have a right of passage. For the same reason as my right hon. Friend said, if our other diplomatic efforts did not produce the desired results and such a declaration of itself failed to secure the right of innocent passage to which we and other maritime nations attach such importance, we should be failing in our duty if we were not now consulting with those concerned about the situation which would then arise and what action would then be appropriate to ensure that the objective which we have in mind is fulfilled.
As to the attitude of the international maritime community to the problem of maintaining freedom of passage through the Straits of Tiran, we are, of course, in consultation with them. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned a number of those whom he and we might feel would be particularly concerned, but I would like to remind the House, as my right hon. Friend did this afternoon, of the very clear declarations made by practically the whole international maritime community when the matter was debated in the General Assembly on 1st March, 1957.
The statement of the representative of Her Majesty's then Government has been repeated a number of times today, and I shall not weary the House with it again. There was the statement of the United States Government, and indeed the public declaration of the then President of the United States, which was quoted in the General Assembly. There was the statement of the French Government, which I think puts this so clearly that it would be right to remind the House that it said:The French Government considers that the Gulf of Aqaba, by reason partly of its breadth and partly of the fact that its shores belong to four different States, constitutes international waters. Consequently it believes that, in conformity with international law, freedom of navigation should be ensured in the Gulf through the Straits which give access to it. In these circumstances no nation has the right to prevent the free and innocent passage of ships, whatever their nationality or type.The representative of Italy said:As far, in particular, as free navigation in the Gulf of Aqaba and the Straits of Tiran are concerned, I do not need to restate here that we consider that the Gulf of Aqaba is an international waterway and that no nation has a right to prevent free and innocent 207 passage in the Gulf of Aqaba and through the Straits giving access thereto.The Netherlands Government said that they werein full agreement with the statements made by Israel, the United States, France and a number of other countries to the effect that passage through the Straits of Tiran should be free, open and unhindered for the ships of all nations.The Australian representative said:Let me now turn to the issue of the Gulf of Aqaba. In this case, we have a gulf of importance to the commerce and shipping of at least two States—Israel and Jordan—and bounded by the territories of four States, Israel Jordan, South Arabia and Egypt. I think no one could fairly deny that the Gulf of Aqaba is part of the seas where the principle of the freedom of maritime communication applies—a principle"—the Australian delegate went on to saywhich the International Court of Justice, in its judgment of 9 April, 1949 on the Corfu Channel case characterised as one of 'certain general and well-recognised principles'.I think that that is what the right hon. Gentleman had in mind a few moments ago.
The New Zealand Government, Norway, Denmark—I could go on, but I do not intend to weary the House because the whole world maritime community was saying these very things in 1957. I think it is therefore right, and it seems to enjoy the support of the House as a whole, that we should be working with the rest of the world maritime community to secure a declaration of the kind to which my right hon. Friend referred this afternoon.
The House will not expect me to say more about what we will do, or what we feel it will be right to do, if, first, action through the Security Council proves ineffective, or the mere issuing of a declaration fails to maintain the freedom of passage through these Straits. All of us here recognise that time is not on our side, and I think it is recognised that one of the significant facts which has so far prevented action of a kind which could have escalated in a way which we all know it could, indeed one of the significant facts which I believe last weekend prevented such action being taken, with all the dread consequences which would have followed, has been the assertion of the obvious concern of ourselves and other maritime nations about the continued right of free passage 208 through this as through other international waterways, and I think it right to say to the House that if this concern had not been expressed as strongly as it has been, it is very doubtful whether there would have been sufficient confidence last weekend to have averted what might have become a general conflagration.
Because of that, and because of the concern which has been expressed so clearly, time is not on our side in working out the necessary arrangements. We may have a few weeks, as the right hon. Gentleman said, or even a month or two. None of us can be certain about that. Therefore, I believe that we have a very strong sense of urgency, and I believe that the House appreciates that sense of urgency.
As my right hon. Friend made clear and as has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House, we shall do everything in our power to secure the effective presence of an appropriate United Nations agency or agencies to help maintain the peace in the area. As we all recognise and have said, they did so successfully in the past. It would be wrong at this stage to speculate about the precise duties which will be assigned to such a United Nations presence, but certainly, as has again been said by hon. Members on both sides, we are right to press that Israel as well as the Arab countries must accept a United Nations presence on their soil.
When the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition made his comments on the precipitate decision to withdraw United Nations peacekeeping force and, indeed, when the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire said what he did in pretty strong terms about the precipitate withdrawal and the acceptance, without consultation, of that demand, I believe that what they said was absolutely right, and we fully support their account and their criticism of this decision.
The Leader of the Opposition asked what possible consequences or implications this might have for Cyprus. I will come to that in detail in a moment. I certainly agree with the implication contained in a number of speeches, including that of the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire, that this 209 decision could have very far-reaching consequences for the United Nations as a whole, in a wider sphere, if we are not able in a very short time to repair the damage that has been done—and damage has been done, and it was done very much against the very strong pressure and insistence of the British delegation there, which wanted to have full consultation in the way the right hon. Gentleman suggested.
This situation has no bearing on the circumstances in which the Cyprus peace-keeping operation was set up. That was set up not by the General Assembly but, as the right hon. Gentleman remembers very well, by a Security Council resolution which requires a confirming resolution every six months. We are the major contributors to that force, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, and even if no more were done on such an occasion than was done in the case of the Sinai force we should have the right of consultation there, because there were some informal consultations with the countries who had troops in Sinai.
But this is not the point here, because if the Government of Cyprus requested that the forces be withdrawn Britain could and should demand that the question be debated by the Security Council, because the Security Council set it up and also because such a withdrawal of that force would be rightly regarded—indeed, this has been underlined by the events of the last two or three weeks—as a major threat to peace. We could therefore ourselves request, and would request, a meeting of the Security Council. Therefore, in terms of a parallel between the two cases, the unfortunate and regrettable decision in the case of Sinai has no governing influence on what would happen in the case of Cyprus.
The right hon. Gentleman criticised this withdrawal, but it was not only Britain; other countries were with us in pressing that there should be full consultation and a full generalised discussion by those whose authority it was and under whose authority the original force had been sent out. Here I think particularly of Canada, whose forces have co-operated in maintaining this lonely vigil for these many years.
To sum up, I feel that this debate has been undeniably useful, not only in stat- 210 ing the views of the great majority of hon. Members—and I believe that they are the views of the great majority of hon. Members—but also in helping to emphasise, from a vastly confused and tortured situation, those issues to which Her Majesty's Government and all others who are concerned in the search for peace should now give priority.
I emphasise again that we are not concerned in this debate or in the actions which follow—and I think the House is not concerned—with taking sides or apportioning blame. However visionary this may seem in such a dangerous situation, what we must seek to do is not only to avoid the dangers of a tragic war, which would be tragic enough in all conscience even if confined to those who now only glower at one another across Middle Eastern frontiers. Many of us here who have visited one or another of many Middle Eastern countries in recent years can imagine the tragedy of the destruction that would follow, not only in loss of life but of treasured possessions and buildings and historic treasures of the countries in question.
Even if so limited, it would be tragic enough, but, as we have all emphasised, it is the danger of a war more horrible because of the dangers of escalation. Visionary as I have called it and visionary though it may seem, what we must seek to do in this situation is not merely to avoid war but to create the conditions of peace. A number of hon. Members have made their contribution to what we call conditions for a lasting peace rather than concentrating on things which must be done urgently to stop war breaking out.
One condition of a lasting peace must be the recognition that Israel has the right to live. As my hon. Friend reminded us, it has been for nearly twenty years a member country of the United Nations, entitled to the respect and protection of the United Nations. Whatever the bitterness that rules today, there are wise men in Israel and there are wise men in Arab countries, however difficult it may be for them to become articulate, who recognise not only the need for coexistence but also the immense opportunities for peaceful co-operation which exist once man-made barriers, based on primeval hostility, can be broken down.
There are some, we know, in Arab countries who argue that with all the 211 poverty and hunger in the Middle East, poverty which there is still, despite the new but inequitably shared riches which oil has brought, and which is still the lot of the great majority of people in the Middle East, the cutting off of an initially fertile area and its designation as a home for large numbers of refugees from vast areas of the world is a provocative act and one which inevitably condemns the rest of the area to continued poverty.
But this is entirely to misconceive the problem of poverty in the Middle East. Wise men, Arabs and Jews alike, conscious of what has been achieved in this small country, which is one of the classic prototypes of successful economic development, conscious of what has been done particularly in irrigation and the transformation of desert into fertile areas, these men know how much could be achieved in a total Middle Eastern war on poverty and hunger if political differences could be set aside.
Commonwealth and other countries in Africa and Asia have good reason to know what Israeli technical assistance means, based as it is not on the expertise of an established advanced industrial country, with all the irrelevances which are sometimes provided in the form of technical assistance from advanced countries, but on their own recent experience in developing a primitive and under-developed area. They have come through this way, and they have made mistakes. They know 212 what mistakes to avoid. But they have also had tremendous successes.
The tragedy for the Middle East is not that the Israelis are occupying a small part of the vast cultivable area; it is that political hostilities on both sides and, above all, perhaps the wasteful deployment on both sides on arms and military expenditure of a prodigious amount—a scale that cannot be afforded—of resources which should be devoted to economic developments, it is these things, the continuing bitter hostility and this wasteful use of resources on arms one against another which has stood in the way of the economic and social development of millions upon millions of people.
In putting on record my feeling about the constructive way in which the whole House has approached this debate, I feel that it is right to interpret this debate as a mandate to Her Majesty's Government by every means in our power to continue with all who are working with us in the search for peace, as we are working with them, but in a wider sense, to use this opportunity today, if opportunity be given, having peered into the abyss as we have, to turn the threat of military war into the reality of total war in the Middle East against man's most ancient enemies of poverty, hunger and disease.
§ Mr. Harry Gourlay (Lord Commissioner of the Treasury)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.