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Middle East Peacekeeping Force

Volume 15: debated on Wednesday 16 December 1981

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6.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the current situation with regard to the setting up of a Middle East peacekeeping force.

We and three of our European partners have offered to participate in the Sinai peacekeeping force at the request of the United States Government, supported by the Governments of Egypt and Israel. We are currently considering with our three partners how to respond to the United States-Israel statement of 3 December and a subsequent communication from the Foreign Minister of Israel. The force is due to be in place on 20 March next and to assume its functions on 25 April. The detailed practical and legal arrangements connected with our participation remain to be negotiated.

Will the Minister comment on the incursion of the French Foreign Minister into the discussion during his recent visit to Israel? What has been the impact of the Israeli Parliament's current decision to re-occupy the Golan Heights on the endeavours to operate a peacekeeping role in the Middle East by next year?

The four countries of Europe—the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and Italy—each made the same statement when they announced their participation. Yesterday the Ten confirmed their adherence to the principle set out in the Venice declaration and their terms of acceptance of the invitation to participate in the Sinai force. The policy of the Ten—and of the four countries that are participating—has not changed, and it is not for me to answer in detail what is said by the Ministers of other Governments.

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that the recent talks between Israel and the United States have in no way invalidated his original statement on the Sinai peacekeeping force, which is still specifically related to the Venice declaration and self-determination of the Palestine people?

Yes, Sir. We were invited to participate in a peacekeeping force in the Sinai, in pursuance of the peace treaty signed between Egypt and Israel, and we made it clear that we in Europe have not departed from our belief in our policy for the Middle East, any more than Israel or any other country has departed from its belief in its policy. Our acceptance was in response to an invitation. The United States and Egypt have accepted our offer. Israel has communicated with us and we are considering how to reply.

Can the Lord Privy Seal give the House any idea when this tragicomedy will end? We cannot go into Sinai unless the Israeli Government agree to receive us, and the Israeli Government have agreed a form of words to justify our arrival that is quite different from that agreed by the European countries. Is not the position of the Israeli Government now completely changed by their decision to annex the Golan Heights, since that is clearly in violation of the Camp David agreement and was stated to be so by the Foreign Minister of Egypt only the other day?

I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman calls it a tragicomedy. It is not. It is a sincere attempt by the parties concerned to ensure the return to Arab hands of Arab land, in pursuance of a peace treaty. There are various actions that the Israeli Government have taken that do not help. If we can play a useful part in ensuring the return of Sinai to Egypt, to which it properly belongs, we are ready to do so.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have noticed the considerable confusion on the Opposition Front Bench on this issue, confusion which is becoming more marked every moment. Will my right hon. Friend pursue the same course of calm as has been announced today by the Egyptian Foreign Office, namely, that what has happened in the north, in Golan, is a matter entirely between the belligerents, Syria never having made any form of peace treaty with Egypt—[Interruption.]—with Israel—or with Egypt, for that matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who is confused?"] In these terms, would it not be best if we pursued an open-handed policy on this matter, as the disputes between Israel and Syria are not concerned with the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel?

It is important to keep these matters clear in our minds—[Interruption.]—on the Opposition Front Bench. We are talking about a peace treaty signed between Israel and Egypt, under which Egypt will obtain the return of the Sinai. We have agreed to assist in that process at the request of the Egyptian arid Israeli Governments. It is right that we should continue to do that, that we should respond to the invitation, and do anything we can to make that advance in these very difficult circumstances.

My right hon. Friend referred to events over the last 24 hours in the northern part of Israel. That is, of course, a related matter, but it does not affect our belief that Sinai should be returned to Egypt. If we can help in that way, we shall.

The official Opposition solidly support the statement just made by the Lord Privy Seal. Perhaps I may clear up the confusion of the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Sir H. Fraser) about the Camp David agreement. That agreement was posited on two resolutions of the United Nations, which have been violated by the decision to annex the Golan Heights. That was a point made in the reaction to the——

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is advancing an argument rather than asking a question. Hon. Members ask the questions and the Minister gives the answer.

I deeply apologise, Mr. Speaker, but you will recall that I introduced my remarks by asking whether I could clear up the confusion from which the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone——

Order. I think that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) understands.