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Middle East

Volume 986: debated on Wednesday 18 June 1980

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14.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's attitude on progress towards peace in the Middle East.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply given earlier today by my right hon. Friend to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Healey (Mr. Hooley).

This question has already been well ventilated, but, while accepting that advance towards peace in the Middle East has been helped considerably by the clear declaration of the Nine in Venice, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he agrees that much will now depend on the speed with which the follow-up operation takes place? Will he confirm that a dialogue will be initiated soon with all the relevant parties, including the PLO, which is obviously the only effective representative of the Palestinian people?

My hon. Friend is right. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister indicated, we are considering the methods of the follow-up. I think that she also indicated that it would probably start fairly soon after the new presidency of the EEC begins in January.

Does the Minister agree that the decision on the status of Jerusalem will form an important part of any final settlement of the problem? Will he clarify for the House that part of the EEC communique which said that the EEC would not accept any unilateral change in the status of Jerusalem?

I think that the statement is fairly clear and is in line with the position which has been held by British Governments for some time.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the strong feelings of many people in this country that it is wrong for democratic Governments to engage in negotiations and talks with terrorist organisations and that the EEC Governments are mistaken in their decision to seek to invoke and involve the PLO, particularly when it has not renounced violence or agreed to accept the right of Israel to exist? As the West Bank was taken from Jordan in 1967, a predominant Palestinian State, is it not time that the West Bank was restored to Jordan?

We condemn violence, whether it comes from the PLO or anybody else. The fact is that the PLO represents large numbers of Palestinians. It is also a fact that we shall not have a very sensible agreement on Palestine if we try to set up an autonomous machinery which Palestinians will not work, or autonomous elections in which they will not vote. Therefore, in our view, the PLO has to be involved in any final negotiations.

I hope to do better with the Minister of State than I did with the Lord Privy Seal. It is one thing to have unofficial communications and contacts with bodies such as the PLO and others —we understand that—but the point at which we are getting is that the reference to bringing in the PLO is in an official communique signed by the Nine heads of Government and that the contact is to be made unconditionally without any prior move by the PLO to accept the fundamental need to recognise the existence of the State of Israel. Does not the hon. Gentleman think that is a foolish move to take? Does he not also think that it would have been helpful if the Nine had issued a clear statement to the effect that the full autonomy already agreed under the Camp David formula ought to have been carried out?

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman welcomes contacts with the PLO at the right level. I think that is a step forward.

It is clear from the declaration of the Nine and from what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in the House that if there are to be proper negotiations, the PLO will have to accept the right of Israel to exist, just as the Israelis will have to take a step forward in accepting the political rights of the Palestinians.

Does my hon. Friend accept that, while it might seem surprising to hon. Members on both sides of the House that the recognition of Palestinian rights should be equated with the need to create an independent State on the West Bank, it is nothing short of astonishing to many of his hon. Friends that the Government should seek in any way to promote the creation of a State which, if dominated by the PLO as seems likely, would be a threat not only to all its neighbours but, through its support for terrorism, to the free world wherever it is found?

There is no reference to a State in the communiqué, for reasons which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explained at length in her statement. I hope that my hon. Friend will take into account the argument that the effect of totally neglecting the PLO, with the support that it enjoys on the West Bank, would make it certain that it would pursue a pro-Soviet line.

Does the Minister really expect the State of Israel, without whom no peacemaking process could succeed in the Middle East, to negotiate with a body that remains devoted to its destruction through methods of terrorism, and which reiterated that aim in a statement only last week?

I do not believe that even the hon. and learned Gentleman would suppose that a settlement could be reached except by negotiation. That negotiation must include Israel—without whom, as he said, no settlement could take place—and representatives of the Palestinians.