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Volume 32: debated on Wednesday 24 November 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on his visit to Jordan.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on his recent visit to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he wil make a statement on the Middle East.

In the course of my visit to Jordan from 9 to 11 November I discussed the full range of Middle East issues with my Jordanian opposite number, Crown Prince Hassan, King Hussein and others. Jordan has a key role to play in the search for a comprehensive peace settlement. I was impressed by the Jordanian commitment to peace. The Jordanians made clear the importance that they attach to the continuing British and European role in the search for a settlement. We shall continue to work hard with all the parties concerned to sustain the momentum towards negotiations created by President Reagan's initiative and the Fez summit declaration. On Lebanon, we support the restoration of a strong and democratic central Government and United States efforts to achieve the early withdrawal of all foreign forces.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and welcome what he said. Will he confirm that the views of Her Majesty's Government and of King Hussein and the Jordanian Government on the Middle East are very close? What does my right hon. Friend identify as the main obstacle to a peaceful solution, the desire for which seems to be shared by most parties, including those he has mentioned?

I confirm that our perception of the problem and our approach to the task of achieving peace are close. The central issues are, first, the policies being pursued by the Israeli Government, that is to say, their rejection so far of the Reagan plan and their policy towards settlement. Secondly, it is fair to say that the Arab countries have not yet come forward with a clear and concerted view of their position vis-a-vis the Reagan plan. I think that this will become clear within the next few days or a week or two.

When he was discussing the Reagan plan with the King of Jordan did my right hon. Friend. in view of the positive response that the King has given to the plan, draw a distinction between the Reagan plan and the Fez plan, because many of us would regard the Fez plan as completely unacceptable?

Yes, I think that every country has reservations about the Reagan plan, and some differences with it. That would even go for Britain, which has taken a position similar to that of our European partners as expressed in the Venice declaration. There are differences of view, but Jordan and many other Arab countries feel that the opportunity presented by the Reagan plan should not be missed. They are supportive of a peacemaking process based upon it.

Has my right hon. Friend read reports that the number of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank is likely to increase this year by 50 per cent? I welcome the intitiative taken by Her Majesty's Government on this point in support of the Reagan plan, but what further action will the Government take to prevent the Reagan plan from being destroyed in this way?

We are concerned about that aspect of the development of events since the plan was proposed. I have made strong representations to the United States Government and to Israel about the importance of a change of policy there. All along I have been pressing them to take a more positive approach to the Reagan plan, which gives an opportunity that should not be missed.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the importance of withdrawing foreign forces from Lebanon. Does he agree that a key factor in this is the international peacekeeping force there? What response have Her Majesty's Government made to the request that a British contingent be sent to the Lebanon to take part in the peacekeeping process?

The Government still have that matter under consideration, and we have not yet reached a conclusion. All foreign forces should and must be withdrawn from the Lebanon. However, that is a difficult negotiation to achieve. We are glad that Mr. Habib has come hack into the negotiating arena, and we hope that he will succeed. However, it would be a mistake for the House to underestimate the difficulties.

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that when His Majesty the King of Morocco brings his delegation here the Government will not receive the PLO representatives unless and until they have by that time accepted the Reagan proposals, with the implication that the representatives recognise the State of Israel?

The Government's position has been that they would be prepared to see PLO representatives if that would further the peacemaking process. Our basic position has been that it would be inappropriate to see the PLO until it renounces violence and recognises the right of Israel to exist. It is essential to take a decision about that difficult matter in the light of the answer to the question whether it will help the peacemaking process. We are considering the request, which we have now received formally, contrary to what was originally proposed, that the delegation should include PLO representation.

Does the Secretary of State agree that in areas like the Middle East it is vital to uphold the authority of the United Nations peacekeeping operations, and that as long as the great powers allow those operations to be treated with complete contempt—as Israel has done—the prospect of stability and peace is remote?

Yes, indeed. That is just one aspect of the difficulties that I mentioned of achieving the withdrawal of all forces from the Lebanon. There is no doubt that that multinational force has an important role to play. At the moment I think that it is adequate for the job that it is doing, but there is a request for further reinforcements, and that is what we are now considering.

Did it emerge from my right hon. Friend's talk with the King that the Reagan proposals would have a chance of making progress only if there were an immediate freeze of settlements on the West Bank? What positive steps will we and the Americans take to bring that about?

Fundamentally, it is a decision for Israel to take. It is Israel's responsibility. We have made representations to that country in various ways. Clearly, the country with the greatest influence is the United States, and for that reason I have made direct representations more than once about the importance of this change. If the policy now followed by Israel is not altered, a credibility gap will arise in the minds of Arab countries. Clearly that would set back the peacemaking process, for which there is a broad and general desire.