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Middle East

Volume 982: debated on Wednesday 16 April 1980

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asked the Lord Privy Seal what part his Department is playing in talks on securing peace in the Middle East.

We have no direct role in the current peace negotiations. We continue to support the autonomy talks as a step towards a comprehensive settlement. We are also discussing with our European Community partners ways in which Europe might be able to contribute to such a settlement.

Is the Minister aware that, so far as the Government may be involved, the peacemaking process is not helped by the intransigence of Premier Begin in colonising the disputed lands? Does he accept that there can be no lasting peace in the area until the just claims of the Palestinian nation are met?

Yes, Sir. We believe that the, Israeli policy of increasing settlements on the West Bank is unwise, unjust and a major obstacle to a settlement.

Can my hon. Friend say what action the Government have taken to support the role of the United Nations peace-keeping force in Southern Lebanon, in view of the adverse events there in recent weeks?

We take that very seriously. The Secretary-General of the United Nations has been in London today, and he has expressed great alarm which we share. A discussion is taking place in the Security Council of the United Nations at this moment on the matter. We strongly support UNIFIL, the United Nations force in the Lebanon, and we are willing to support any sensible measures to buttress it and increase its effectiveness.

In view of the fact that the Camp David agreement is defunct and is about to expire on 26 May in any case, what initiatives is the Foreign Secretary trying to mount with his European colleagues to bring forward other proposals which will be more realistic in terms of the need for the restitution of Palestinian rights?

As I said in my original reply, we are considering what we might do. We do not wish to do anything to cut across the highly important talks that are taking place within the Camp David process.

In view of the general confusion in the Middle East and the statement of President Carter that in no circumstances would he recognise the PLO, and in view of what the PLO is now attempting to do in setting up a command in Syria, will the Foreign Secretary, or his deputy, reiterate what was said by the Prime Minister, namely, that there is no question of Britain's recognising the PLO?

President Carter said that he would not recognise the PLO so long as it did not recognise Israel. That is one of the difficulties that we have constantly pointed out. We do not recognise the PLO, and it will be difficult for us to do so as long as it refuses to accept the right of Israel to exist within secure and recognised frontiers.

What progress have the Government made towards persuading the PLO to drop the part of the covenant which states that Israel must be destroyed? Most reasonable people, including the majority of people in Israel, feel that if the PLO were to drop that part of the covenant there could be discussions that could lead to a major breakthrough, which would benefit the Palestinian Arabs.

It is partly a matter of the covenant, as the hon. Gentleman says, but perhaps even more so a question of terrorist attacks. We are doing what we can in that direction. It would be a great help if the Israeli Government would state at the same time that they recognise that the Palestinians have a right to a homeland also.

I agree with the last remarks of the hon. Gentleman. However, there appears to be a different emphasis on the condemnation of the Israeli moves from that on the action of the PLO. Will the Minister make it clear that he is prepared to demand that the PLO drops this part of the covenant as a price for going ahead with negotiations?

We should not pay too much attention to the covenant, any more than we should to the founding documents of other political organisations. It is the action that is taken, particularly the renunciation of terrorist activity, that matters.