BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 21.10.01

Interview: MENZIES CAMPBELL MP, Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesman

Says there needs to be a substantial degree of compromise on both sides to resolve the Israeli%2FPalestinian problem.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Well clearly all that raises serious questions for Britain's foreign policy, Menzies Campbell is the Foreign Affairs Spokesman for the Liberal Democrats and he's in our Edinburgh studio. Mr Campbell, however deeply Muslims feel their grievances we can't give them what we want can we because it would cut against our own interests and our own policies, I mean, simply taking the Palestinian/Israeli question, we cannot give them what they want. MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well I'm not sure about that because the Prime Minister after all, having seen Yasser Arafat this week talked about the need for the Palestinians to have justice and land and talked about the need for them to have a viable state and there is now a recognition, I think, in the United States for the first time the present administration has actually articulated a similar aspiration. I think it is possible to achieve that but it will need a very substantial degree of compromise on both sides, which we have not so far seen. HUMPHRYS: And we're certain.... CAMPBELL: I beg your pardon. HUMPHRYS: No I beg your pardon, do finish. CAMPBELL: Yes, I was going to say I suspect it is only the United States, perhaps with some assistance from the United Kingdom, that's in a position to exercise that pressure on both sides. HUMPHRYS: I was going to say the chance of compromise has disappeared hasn't it, after the murder of Al.....Mr Ze'evi, the Tourism Minister, Yasser Arafat has been told by the Israelis that unless he hands him over, that's it, they are not going to deal with him anymore, they are going to cut him off at the knees. CAMPBELL: Well that wouldn't make very sense, Shimon Peres the Foreign Minister and the Israeli Government said only a fortnight ago that if you were going to do any kind of deal with the Palestinians, then you had to do it through Yasser Arafat. Part of the problem is that Mr Arafat is nominally the leader of the Palestinians, but his own position is not all that strong for a variety of reasons, that's why, for example, it was the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine that carried out the assassination of the Tourism Minister, because they don't want to see any kind of accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians. HUMPHRYS: So it would kill the peace process if the Israelis were to follow up that threat. CAMPBELL: Well it most certainly would and one of the things the Prime Minister said, which struck a chord with me and I hope with many others in the course of the last week or so, was to say generations, far too many generations of young people on both sides have grown up with this threat hanging over them. If succeeding generations are to have any hope of a peaceful existence then a serious effort has got to be made to try and reach some resolution. There is one problem though which is worth pointing out and that's this there's, what I sometimes call the crisis of expectation, we were here after all rather similarly at the time of the Gulf War with President Bush's father and, although there was no linkage and great efforts were made to say there was no linkage, there was a tacit understanding that as soon as Saddam Hussein had been expelled from Kuwait, then serious efforts would be made in the Middle East and there were some efforts. There was the Madrid Conference and then the Oslo Peace Agreement but the problem is, that after the Oslo Peace Agreement, most Palestinians are very much worse off than they were before and if we talk about doing something about this, and then don't deliver, then, of course, the position will be very much worse in the future than it was before. HUMPHRYS: Indeed, and that's one problem, the other is Iraq, they want a more lenient approach, the Arab world wants a more lenient approach towards Iraq, the reality is we may well take a much more stern approach towards Iraq, we may indeed attack them again for all the reasons that we are aware of, so that is another respect in which we cannot give the Arabs what they want. CAMPBELL: Well I was among those who was rather critical of some loose talk about extending the military action to Iraq, I think if there was any question of that and there is some suggestion in the American Administration, there are still those who believe it is necessary, if there was any question of that without any credible evidence, then I think it would be a very substantial mistake, because, as one of your contributors pointed out a little earlier, there's not much sympathy for Saddam Hussein but there's huge sympathy for the Iraqi people, because of course it is they who have faced the brunt of the effect of the sanctions. Now to be fair to the British Government, along with the Dutch, they put together United Nations Security Council Resolution 12 04, which said that the non-military sanctions could be lifted, after, or suspended, after a period of ninety days, if Saddam Hussein would allow the return of the inspectorate. And that was a difficult resolution to achieve, but it was achieved. The problem is that Saddam Hussein simply refuses to co-operate because from his point of view, the more he can maintain the fiction that it is the sanctions and the sanctions alone which are causing the trouble to his people, then the stronger his position is. HUMPHRYS: Just a final yes or no answer, no bombing pause against Afghanistan? Yes or no, if you would. CAMPBELL: I'm afraid not, I understand those who call for it, but the best thing we can do is to press on with the campaign, at the same time making a maximum humanitarian effort. HUMPHRYS: Ming Campbell, thank you very much indeed.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.