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Middle East

Volume 927: debated on Wednesday 2 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next plans to have consultations with the United States Administration and Great Britain's partners in Europe regarding the prospects for a peace settlement in the Middle East.

We are in constant touch with our partners in the Nine, and with the United States Administration, on this subject.

Will the Secretary, of State encourage a joint American-Community policy that encourages the Palestinians to recognise Israel's right to exist and also urges the Israelis to dismantle the 80 settlements in Arab-occupied territory, which in itself is highly provocative? Is it not essential to get concessions from both sides before any progress can be made?

It is probably true that we shall not get a peace settlement without a change in the present position of both the main parties to the dispute. With regard to a joint position with the United States Administration, there is great value in having as strong consultation and co-operation between the Community and the United States Administration as is possible and feasible. But they are both independent decision-making bodies. The political co-operation machinery in the Community is used to the full, but the Community is sovereign and will make decisions in its own right. Similarly, so will the United States Administration. What we wish to do is try to encourage both to keep in step and keep each other as fully informed as possible of the views of the member States of the Community and the United States.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is no good trying to leave out the Soviet Union, because that country has a vital part to play in any peace settlement in the Middle East? Does he not further agree that it is now an urgent need to reconvene the Geneva Conference with a distinct Palestinian entity at that conference?

I agree that the Soviet Union, as part of the Geneva Conference, will have to be involved. There may be a case for going to Geneva, but there is no case for going to Geneva until there is a sensible basis for a negotiated settlement. One of the issues that still have to be resolved—it is perhaps central to whether we can go to Geneva—is the present attitude over representation, about which there are strongly held views on both sides. As a result of the efforts of Dr. Waldheim and Secretary of State Vance, it should be possible to get around this real difficulty.

The Secretary of State said yesterday that he himself would be going to the Middle East before long. Will he do so, at least in part, in his capacity as President of the Council of Ministers? How does the right hon. Gentleman see European interests in a settlement being brought effectively to bear on the situation?

I said that I was going to visit Egypt in a few weeks' time and that I would also be going to visit Israel. When I visit Egypt I shall still be holding the presidency of the Council of Foreign Ministers. Already the French and German Foreign Ministers have been to the area, and I believe that the Com- munity will fairly soon discuss their reports and impressions. It is impossible to go without holding the presidency, but whether one would act in the capacity of the President depends on the decisions of the other eight member States.

Will the Secretary of State press for a joint initiative with our allies to protect European business men from improper pressures from the Arab boycott office? Does he realise that the initiative already taken by the American Secretary of State has led to subsequent concessions by the Arab boycott office with regard to American exporters? Will the right hon. Gentleman now take similar action to protect British exporters?

I am firmly opposed to the boycott. I have made that categorically clear and I do so again at this time in my capacity as Foreign Secretary. I should welcome discussions with the new American Administration about their new measures.