Wednesday 2 August 2006

Recall Parliament on Lebanon

The military invasion of Lebanon by Israel and the escalation in the number of Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israel is a sure indication that far from being a limited and short lived enagagement the fighting in Lebanon is deteriorating into a full scale war. Unless some resolution is found shortly there must be a real risk of other states being drawn into the conflict.

The Bush/Blair strategy of allowing the Israelis a period of grace of 10 days in which they could destroy Hezbollah has not only failed but is proving to be counter-productive in that support for Hezbollah appears to be hardening both in Lebanon and on the Arab street.

The Prime Minister's latest speech in the US offers nothing new by way of analysis or strategy. In fact it is a patently obvious rehash of earlier speeches, slightly more messianic but desperately spun out to make it appear that some new approach is being developed.

My main fear is that every day this present fighting goes on there will be more atrocities perpetrated by either side, which will make it all the more difficult in the long run to secure a lasting peace in the region and prevent an inevitable increase in terrorist activity around the globe.

Scilla Elsworthy, founder of the world famous Oxford Research Group and Peace Direct, and Gabrielle Rifkind, founder of the Middle Esat Policy Initiative Forum, describe very concretely in their excellent book "Making Terrorism History" how "violent conflict is prolonged through cycles of trauma and retaliation, but also how armed intervention designed to end conflict can often have the effect of stimulating more violence."

The Bush/Blair strategy is failing before our eyes at such a dreadful cost in terms of loss of life and human suffering. The latest total of lives lost is nearly 700, with nearly 1 million refugees displaced in the Lebanon. We need to have an urgent and open debate on what we as a country can do to bring a swift end to the current escalating conflict and what role we can play with others to help prevent future aggression. One step in starting this critical debate would be the recall of Parliament. I called for the recall of Parliament last Sunday. Other MPs have now joined that call. What is the Prime Minister's fear of having a Parliamentary debate?

We hear that a debate went on in Cabinet and a number of Cabinet Ministers have let it leak out that they questioned the Prime Minister's strategy. I have to say Cabinet Ministers trying to salve their consciences in this cowardly and pathetic way is almost as disgraceful as Tony Blair supporting the Bush strategy. If Cabinet Ministers had spoken out in public in opposing Tony Blair's support for the Bush line or had even done the honourable thing and resigned in order to speak out on this issue, I would have had some respect for them. To hide behind leaks and off the record briefings is degrading. If those in Cabinet who were concerned about the Bush/Blar strategy had acted decisively together there may have been the opportunity of securing a break with Bush and Britain joining with others in calling for an immediate ceasefire. Their failure to act implicates them in this failure to demand and secure peace and end the killing in Lebanon, Gaza and Israel.

Recalling Parliament would give every Member of Parliament the opportunity to speak and vote on the basis of their conscience. If Parliament is recalled, I would wish to see the opportunity given to MPs to vote on a motion to determine Britain's independent strategy and for this vote to be unwhipped.