Two interventions in the House of Commons

I take an active part in House of Commons debates on foreign affairs. Unfortunately, British journalists refuse to report the exchanges and debates on the floor of the Commons but for students of foreign affairs and for foreign policy-makers the points in the Commons give a good reflection of public opinions and a fair insight into ministerial thinking. In the current Gaza conflict the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband and other ministers have been robust in their criticism of Israeli tactics but have also insisted on the responsibility of Hamas for refusing to seek a political path to achieve a full state for Palestinians and instead have chosen to kill Jews and maintain the calls in the Hamas Charter with its rabid antisemitic ideology.
I made the first intervention below in questions to the Defence Secretary, John Hutton, after listening to a bizarre interview on Radio 4 Today with Sir Jeremy Greenstock. I know, admire and like Sir Jeremy who was a distinguished ambassador to the UN at the time of the Iraq War. He wrote a book about his time at the UN which was banned by Whitehall which I thought highly unfair. But on the Today programme on Monday 12th January, he urged a full recognition and talks with Hamas and gave the impression (at least to me) that Hamas was just an ordinary political outfit. He dismissed the Hamas Charter (see my Yorkshire Post article on 5 January on this blog) as an unimportant document, with an insouciance astonishing for a highly skilled diplomat who made a career by careful consideration of words. The Hamas Charter is a core Islamist ideological document. It has never been repudiated or declared caduc (out-of-date, dead) as Arafat declared the PLO call for the elimination of Israel. Sir Jeremy also said that Iran was not involved in Gaza on the grounds that Shia Iran would have little to do with Sunni Hamas. Yet the leaders of Iran and Hamas met in 2005 and warmly embraced each other. They share a public hate of Jews and of Israel. The argument for some form of talks with Hamas has been rejected by Hilary Clinton in her first statement before taking up office as US Secretary of State. Informal contacts may be useful though they would cut the feet from the elected government of Palestine and the authority of the Palestinian Authority. But it is hard to see how Hamas can be treated as a normal political partner while it insists on its Jew-hating Charter and it continues to smuggle Iranian rockets into Gaza to launch assaults on women and children in Israel. So Sir Jeremy’s arguments about Hamas, its Charter and his view that Shia Iran had no relations with Sunni Hamas prompted this exchange below.

Hansard Monday 12 January 2009
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I am unsure whether my right hon. Friend will have seen yesterday’s report by Steve Erlanger in The New York Times. It stated:
“Hamas, with training from Iran and Hezbollah, has used the last two years to turn Gaza into a deadly maze of tunnels, booby traps and sophisticated roadside bombs.”
That came from The New York Times, not any other source. Does the Secretary of State agree that Iran’s involvement in the current crisis, including the smuggling of Fajr-3 missiles into the hands of Hamas, is a great danger and that the warm relationship between the leadership of Hamas and the current anti-Semitic leadership of Iran also indicates just what a poisonous role Iran is playing generally in the region and further afield?
Mr. Hutton: I did not see that edition of The New York Times, unlike my right hon. Friend. I shall just repeat my earlier comment that Iran’s influence in the region is malign. We want the situation to be transformed, and we are actively pursuing better dialogue and engagement with Iran, but there can be no regional security as long as Iran continues to support not just terrorist organisations in the middle east, but, for example, Taliban elements in Afghanistan, and as long as Iran continues to have active and close links with some of the terrorists and insurgent groups in Iraq. That has to change. Iran has suffered as a result of the isolation that her foreign policy has brought upon her, and that can change if Iran changes her attitude and approach to these issues. Her Majesty’s Government are clear about the need for peace and stability in the middle east, and that is not helped by the current policies of the Iranian Government.
As previous blogs show I am very concerned that Europeans expect President Obama to conform to their views of foreign policy. Few European politicians accept that we may have to change in order to forge a new partnership with post-Bush America. In particular the strident anti-European rhetoric from the Conservative Party as the prominent Europhobe, William Hague, gains in influence cannot make sense. Obama does not need a cacophony of voices from Europe but as much coherence and unity of purpose and voice as possible. This view led to this brief exchange in FCO questions.

Hansard Tuesday 13 January 2009
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, rather than keep asking what America can do for us, should we not seek here in Europe to say what we can do to work with America to solve pressing problems on the economy, the environment, Russia, the middle east, Afghanistan and, indeed, Africa? To achieve that, can the Foreign Secretary work towards a more united, coherent Europe, because the last thing that President Obama needs is 27 nationalistic European foreign policies—the ideology of Opposition Front Benchers?
Bill Rammell: As on many issues, I very much agree with my right hon. Friend. There is a real risk in some quarters that people feel that, with the passing of President George W. Bush, all the difficult issues in the international community will disappear. There is an important necessity for the international community to work together on these issues, and that means that Europe needs to come together with the United States of America. That was one of the issues discussed at the General Affairs and External Relations Council last week.