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Palestinian Leaders (Discussions)

Volume 32: debated on Wednesday 24 November 1982

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8.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs at what stage in the negotiations to resolve the Palestinian problem he will be prepared to have direct discussions with Palestinian leaders.

We maintain contacts at official level with a wide range of Palestinian opinion. A decision on whether I should meet any particular Palestinian leader would need to be taken in the light of all the circumstances, including whether it would contribute to the cause of peace in the Middle East. We want to see a mutual acceptance of rights and renunciation of violence by both Palestinians and Israelis.

Given Israel's progressive and accelerating incorporation of Palestine into Israel, and given Israel's complicity, to say the least, in Sabra and Chatila, is it not time that we dropped the conditions precedent on a meeting with the Palestinians—a one-sided recognition of Israel's right to exist and a one-sided abandonment of violence? If we want to get to the heart of the matter, is it not time that we talked to the Palestinians, who are the people that matter?

I dealt with that issue when I replied to an earlier question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). We want to achieve a mutual recognition by the Israelis and the Palestinians of each other's rights.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware of reports that British citizens working on the West Bank as university lecturers and in other capacities have been required by the Israeli authorities to sign anti-PLO statements, failing which they are denied work permits? Is that not absolutely disgraceful? What action are the Government taking to rectify the position?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Britain and other countries have protested strongly to Israel, which has now dropped the requirement to sign the declaration. However, I am not yet clear about the full implications of that decision, and I am making further inquiries.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the discussions that are essential to peace in the Middle East are those between the Governments of the countries involved, especially Israel and Jordan? Will he confirm that he has urged that policy on those countries, especially during his recent visit to Jordan?

If the peacemaking process, with all its difficulties. is to be successful, undoubtedly my hon. Friend's remarks are correct. Other countries are involved, and they must sit round the table and sink and settle their differences. It is a formidable task.

We are trying to put Israel in a position where it will accept the basis of a peacemaking process. We are also trying to persuade the Arab countries to come forward with a coherent and cohesive response to the Reagan initiative.

As it is universally agreed that the future of the Palestinian people is the core of the Middle East problem, is it not common sense for the Government and the Foreign Secretary to talk to the leaders of the Palestinians?

I have made the Government's position clear on that matter. We must make our decisions in the light of the circumstances and decide what will help the peacemaking process.

Is not the question more intense than simply making up one's mind? Surely the Government's mind is clear. They wish to pursue a peacekeeping process based on the Reagan initiative. Is not the PLO excluded from the negotiations under the Reagan initiative? If the Government receive PLO delegations, would that not be a positive step against the Reagan peace process, which I thought my right hon. Friend supported?

I cannot agree with my right hon. Friend, for the simple reason that the Reagan initiative does not exclude discussions with the PLO. The European Community and Britain have said that the PLO must be associated with the peacekeeping process. If it is not, I doubt whether the peacekeeping process will succeed.