William Hague's Schmooze With The Jewish News...

Thursday 25th March 2010

Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague

The shadow foreign secretary spoke on Iran, Middle East peace and why you should vote Tory.

The middle east peace process and settlements

As a long-standing friend of Israel and someone who joined Conservative Friends Of Israel at the age of 15, my position is that there must be a two-state solution. It is in the interest of Israel to secure a viable Palestinian state. This, of course, is where the settlement issue comes in. The Quartet of the UN, EU, United States and Russia have asked for the freezing of settlement expansion.

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Whatever you think about Israel's policy twoards settlements, its recent announcement of a new project in East Jerusalem during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden was not a great way to advance diplomatic relations. It was a mistake to make it public in that way although it was probably an accident in terms of the timing. These sort of things can happen, particularly within coalition governments, but that's a great shame that it came out when it did.

The main thing to remember is we have to somehow move things forward to try to get a two-state solution. If we don't, in the next year or two the chance may slip away and the long-term security of Israel could be undermined.

There are things that we're asking of Israel – such as the freeze on settlement expansion – but there are also important things we ask of Palestinians. And we still have the issue of dealing with Hamas in Gaza, an organisation that doesn’t recognise Israel, any previous agreements and has made no movement towards acceptance of the Quartet's principles.

There are other Palestinians to deal with. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is a man we can do business with. He is doing his utmost to improve the situation in the West Bank and elsewhere.

So it's absolutely true that the pressure must be applied on all sides. Foreign Secretary David Miliband has often spoken about needing not a two-state solution but a 23-state solution of all the Arab states, and this is true. This is why we need something from Israel like the settlement freeze because then it will be much easier to say to Arab governments – you've always said that if there is real advance there will be a normalisation of relations with Israel. And some of them are very interested in doing that. They vary enormously in their attitude. It's as difficult to generalise about them as it is to generalise about European countries. Their policies and cultures differ tremendously but there is the potential with Arab nations for many of them to achieve more normal relations with Israel and that's what we're asking from them.

So you would get this drive from a future Conservative government.

His personal view on israel

I was one of the critics of the Lebanon war in 2006 as I doubted it would leave Israel in a stronger position. And also because of the wider effects on the whole of Lebanon including on its democratically-elected government. That is why I said at the time that elements of it were disproportionate. We can debate whether it did or not leave Israel better off. I’d suggest it probably didn't.

I didn’t make the same criticism of the Gaza conflict last year because I thought that was different. There are still things I think that need examining about this conflict but I didn't use the term "disproportionate" because, in this instance, Israel was under repeated rocket attack. This has to be kept in mind. We did want a ceasefire as soon as possible but always stressed the need for a ceasefire on both sides for it to be effective.

This is why I used the term “disproportionate” over the Lebanon war. It was part of my overall approach which is, as I explained earlier, as a long-standing and natural friend of Israel.

I understand the country's strategic fragility. Thanks to Conservative Friends Of Israel I’ve travelled across the country. I've stood on the Golan Heights and swam in the Sea of Galilee. I've stood on the part of the West Bank where you can see the Mediterranean, where you really understand Israel's strategic fragility. But we are candid friends, which means we don't always agree.

Much as we want to see Israel succeed, if we think its actions are inconsistent with its own long-term security and long-term peace in the region then of course we owe it to Israel, as well as to everyone else, to say so. That is my approach.

The threat of a nuclear iran

A Conservative government would not say we should remove the threat of military action. This option should remain on the table. But I'm not calling for that at the moment. Given that, I would not want to see Israel take unilateral action against Iran's nuclear facilities. Iran acquiring nuclear weapons would be a calamity – one of the biggest calamities that could occur in the next few years. But military action against Iran could also be calamitous.

The entire issue needs very careful consideration because it's hard to see how military action, even if it was successful in the short-term, will resolve the problem in the long term. And presumably, should it be attacked, Iran would be all the more determined to develop its nuclear weapons.

There could also be a great deal of economic instability and attacks by Iran's proxies in the region, some of whom are on Israel's borders.

So no one must think that that an attack is the easy solution to this issue. We have to do everything we can to avoid Iran getting a nuclear weapon and a conflict in the region due to its nuclear ambitions. It is important to intensify peaceful pressure on Iran.

The danger of the bnp

I hope to defeat the BNP comprehensively at the election but that's easier said than done. We have to take them on in the constituencies where they arise and not ignore the threat.

We have to be the real champions of our own British values, which is something the British National Party absolutely does not represent in any respect. It is a tragedy they’re even called the British National Party as the last thing they are is British in their approach to how society should be conducted.

We have to be very clear about intolerance. I was appalled when I was in Manchester a few weeks ago, speaking to the British-Israel Chamber of Commerce, when the deputy ambassador of Israel was unable to conduct a meeting at Manchester University because the students were threatening violence and blockading the campus. They made it impossible for her to hold a meeting. This requires a stronger response from university authorities in the first place and then, if necessary, from police authorities to make sure the freedom of speech for someone like the deputy ambassador of Israel is maintained in this country.

When things like this happen we have to be very tough about it to confront extremism or anti-Semitism, whenever it raises its head.

Why jewish news readers should vote conservative

We're not setting out to win the election by causing a political division within the Jewish community. I don't see it like that. There have been differences between us and Labour towards Israel, although we basically support the same strategy towards Middle East peace. David Miliband and I differ on the urgency of the universal jurisdiction question. He said in December, when Tzipi Livni didn’t feel able to visit Britain, that it was an urgent matter. Well, it was so urgent that we’ve now reached the end of March and there are no government proposals to do anything about it other than an article the prime minister wrote in the Daily Telegraph which was really an announcement that they weren’t going to do anything about it. And one Labour MP has promoted a Bill to deal with the matter which he knows full well has no chance of being debated, let alone being enacted at this stage of the Parliament.

I think we'd have acted more speedily over this and we will be looking to act speedily if we are elected because it is intolerable that Israeli politicians feel they cannot come to Britain to discuss with us all of these issues. So this is one main difference between us and the current government.

We also differed over how to vote on the Goldstone Report, when it turned out they couldn’t even abstain competently. They couldn't decide what to do so they abstained, then they were overtaken by events and weren't even there to abstain.

We think there are some serious allegations that need to be dealt with on all sides in the Goldstone Report. The motion that went forward was unbalanced as it made no mention of the responsibility of Hamas. We would have voted against it. Also, the prime minister said that the Royal Navy would go to stop smuggling of arms and other items into Gaza but no ship has ever been sent. We don't believe that you should make such announcements in foreign affairs and then do nothing about them. Similarly we don’t think it was right (you see now you've got me going it's quite a list this isn’t it!) for Gordon Brown to twice announce new sanctions on Iran, including once at the Lord Mayor’s banquet in his major foreign policy speech of the year, which were never enacted. He announced at one stage action will start on investment in Iranian oil and gas fields. Well months and months later no such action has been taken.

These are examples of how we have differed from the government. I hope that people will have confidence that, if government was being conducted by us, we would bear these things in mind.

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