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Middle East

Volume 986: debated on Wednesday 18 June 1980

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9.

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether any new initiative is contemplated by the United Kingdom in concert with other West European States to help resolves the problems in the Middle East.

11.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what steps he intends to take to help to achieve a peaceful solution to the Middle East crisis arising from continued denial of Palestinian rights.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House on 16 June, the European Council issued a statement on the Middle East in Venice on 13 June. The Nine will determine their future action in the light of the contacts with the parties concerned called for in the statement. The Nine's objective is to reconcile Israel's legitimate security concerns with the political rights of the Palestinians.

Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that the forthright statement from Venice in favour of full self-determination for the Palestinian people is welcome and long overdue? Is he further aware that as long as the Arabs on the West Bank and Gaza continue to be treated in an insulting and humiliating way by the Israeli colonial Administration the prospect of conflict will become closer and closer?

As the Prime Minister said, there must be general agreement on the two principles—security for Israel and recognition of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians. There has been a serious situation on the West Bank in the last few weeks. That has concerned not only us. It has been the subject of considerable anxiety in the Knesset. It is a matter of great gravity.

Has my right hon. Friend noticed how frequently the denial of the legitimate rights of the indigenous population, be it in Zimbabwe, South Africa or Palestine, seeks to equate nationalism with terrorism? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is obvious that there will never be a conclusive peace settlement in the Middle East, unless the Palestine Liberation Organisation is involved in direct negotiations? In the light of the European declaration, will my right hon. Friend use his best endeavours to bring together both parties, without preconditions, so that we can make positive progress towards the inevitable settlement that most British people would like to see?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that terrorism is not and cannot be a solution to the problem. We all condemn terrorism, from wherever it comes. Obviously, the problem can be solved only by negotiation and agreement. Before we get as far as my hon. Friend seeks, the reconnaissance proposed by the European Council is a worthwhile exercise. It is valuable to talk to all the parties so that we can clarify all the issues.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with his right hon. and noble Friend Lord Home that before the British Government and the EEC start any initiative with the PLO the PLO must renounce its avowed aim of the destruction of the State of Israel?

We have said many times that we have no intention of recognising the PLO. As the Prime Minister said the other day, there can be no negotiation even after reconnaissance unless the PLO recognises the right of Israel to exist. Of course, this must be a two-way process, as the hon. Gentleman will understand. Just as the Fatah declarations at its conference the other day were not such as to help to produce a negotiated settlement, so Israeli claims to alter the status of Jerusalem and to sovereignty over the West Bank are, similarly, not in accordance with a negotiated settlement. We need compromise on both sides.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is of the greatest importance that there should be contacts—if necessary at an unofficial level—between European Governments and moderate PLO leaders, not only to encourage the moderate elements of the PLO leadership who are silent but who believe that it is possible, and desirable, that in future Israel should exist within secure frontiers next to a predominantly Palestinian State?

Of course, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we refuse to speak to people on any level we are, obviously, unable to persuade them to the way of thinking that we believe to be right. To boycott the PLO—whatever we may think of it—when it plainly represents a large part, though not all, of the Palestinian people will defeat our objective of bringing it into the peace process. The PLO must be talked to and we must get it to agree to the fundamentals of the Venice statement.

May I press the Lord Privy Seal further on that point? Is it not a fact that the fundamental cause of the conflict is the injustice indicted upon the Palestinian people? Is it not therefore essential that they should be brought into discussion and negotiation? Is not the PLO the only possible body representative of Palestinian opinion?

It has long been clear to virtually everyone that there can be no comprehensive settlement in the Middle East without the involvement of the Palestinian people. That is fundamental. It also follows that the PLO must be brought in not as the sole representative of the Palestinian people but as the representative of a large number of them.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a tragedy for all those who wish to see peace and recognition in the Middle East that a resolution of its problems should await a resolution of the American domestic situation? Will my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that the Venice declaration will not be a time-filler until the American presidential election is resolved and that every effort will be made, by this and every other European Government in the meantime, to press and fulfil the purpose and spirit of that accord?

As my hon. Friend indicates, the American election creates difficulties in relation to this issue. One of the objectives of the Venice declaration, and one of the most reasonable and legitimate of them, was to recognise that there would otherwise be something of a hiatus between now and the American presidential election and that it was important that momentum should be kept up. The leaders of the Nine made it clear that they in no way sought to cut across, or spoil, the Camp David process but that they were acting in conjunction with it. I am sure, therefore, that what they decided to do was extremely valuable.

The purpose and meaning of the statement issued by the Nine on the Middle East is far from clear, as I think the Lord Privy Seal will acknowledge. It has not become a great deal clearer from the right hon. Gentleman's replies this afternoon. However, we have noted that the Government have no present intention of recognising the PLO. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think—and here, I reiterate a point made by one of my hon. Friends—that to associate the PLO in any way with these negotiations must be made contingent upon a quite clear recognition and declaration by the PLO that it will accept the right of the State of Israel to exist and enjoy full security? That is essential.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman understand that the credentials of Western Europe in relation to the Middle East are marred and spoiled? It is not that we are not conscious that there is a real problem and that real injustice is being inflicted on many people on the West Bank. But surely the right hon. Gentleman understands that European countries, with their massive dependence upon oil, are indeed suspect in the approaches that they have made?

Almost everything that the right hon. Gentleman says is untrue. The idea that, because Western Europe is dependent upon oil, it is unable to say something about the Middle East is utter rubbish. The implication that the Palestinian people have no rights in themselves and that they are given rights by us only because of the oil problem is also absolute rubbish. The idea that there is any lack of clarity in the Venice statement is also untrue—[Interruption.] It may well be that hon. Gentleman do not wish to solve the problem of the Middle East. Most people do. We have already said that we shall not recognise the PLO. But as the right hon. Gentleman must know, from his experience in foreign affairs, to refuse to talk to people because one does not always agree with them is not a sensible way of carrying matters forward.

The Americans, certainly, committed themselves not to talk to the PLO and have probably been regretting that decision ever since. The PLO represents a large part of the Palestinian people. Dr. Nahum Goldmann has for many years suggested that Israel and the PLO should recognise each other. That is a suggestion from, probably, the most distinguished living Zionist.

For the right hon. Gentleman to try to crab the European initiative—which he must know is extraordinarily important not only because of the severe tensions on the West Bank but because of severe tensions in the Middle East as a whole—is entirely wrong and is extremely unhelpful to the West and to this country.

Order. We shall come back to this but I hope that we shall have shorter questions and answers.