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Middle East

Volume 79: debated on Wednesday 22 May 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on progress towards a middle east peace settlement.

We and our European partners have welcomed recent moves in the search for a peaceful, negotiated solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is up to the parties concerned to take the lead in working for a just and lasting solution. For our part, we are in regular contact with the United States Administration and with King Hussein, and look forward to discussing the next steps during the visit to Britain of the Israeli Foreign Minister.

Mr. Murphy and Mr. Shultz have recently visited the middle east. Does my hon. Friend feel that the visits have brought a relaunching of the Reagan initiative any nearer? In the context of progress towards peace, will he comment on the reported testing of Israeli nuclear weapons?

We welcome the fact that Mr. Shultz has recently undertaken a tour of the area and that Mr. Murphy is keeping up a regular contact with the middle eastern countries. As my hon. Friend knows, we believe that the agreement between the Jordanians and the Palestinians of 11 February is a basis for making progress. We are keeping in close touch with the parties. My right hon. and learned Friend and I will be seeing King Hussein tomorrow morning, and he will be coming through this country again following his visit to the United States.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the courageous initiative of King Hussein has made the prospect of peace on the west bank and between Jordan and Israel very much closer? Will he give an undertaking to use his best endeavours not only on behalf of the United Kingdom Government but within the Council of Ministers meeting in political co-operation to bring a European element into this discussion, which is vital?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, who has recently undertaken a tour of the middle east and met many leaders. King Hussein is showing great courage in his efforts to try to make progress on this intractable problem—one on which there is an urgent need to make progress. That is why it is important for us, as we wish to give King Hussein every encouragement and support, to keep in the closest touch and to see him this week.

On the European Community, the Prime Minister recently issued a strong statement in support of the Jordanian-Palestinian proposals of 11 February.

Would it not, perhaps, be advantageous if the Government had less frequent contact with the United States Government, as it is quite clear that that Government are not prepared to put pressure on Israel—which has been the aggressor and which is not prepared to enter meaningful talks towards a resolution of these problems?

I do not agree with that. I think that it is important that we should keep in regular touch. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has had two discussions with President Reagan recently and my tight hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has regular discussions with Mr. Shultz. The Americans have an extremely important role to play in the middle east if there is to be progress, and I think it is right that we should keep in close touch with them.

In the light of the deplorable events in the Lebanon to which we referred earlier, are not the Government of Israel entirely right in being concerned about the security and safety of Israel's northern border. and will my hon. Friend reaffirm the commitment of the Government that that must be an integral part of any eventual peace settlement?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that in the withdrawal of the Israeli forces which is taking pace now, and which we welcome, it is very important that there should be security arrangements between Israel and the Lebanon. That is why I think it is regrettable that the two Governments are not at the moment prepared to talk about these arrangements.

Will the Minister commend the increasing signs of realism in Israel in respect of the need to involve the PLO in discussions, even within the columns of the Jerusalem Post, and urge on the Israeli Government the need to deal with the PLO before the PLO is undermined by the failure to achieve progress in the middle east?

We shall be able to discuss these matters with the Israeli Foreign Minister when he comes to London the week after next, and we welcome the fact that Prime Minister Pares has made some positive remarks about a direct dialogue between the Arabs, the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Has my hon. Friend managed to establish whether it really is the PLO's view, as expressed by Hani Al-Hassan on 26 April, that it is prepared to agree to a deputation with the Jordanians which does not include prominent members of the PLO?

If my hon. Friend is talking about the delegation that is being proposed to visit the United States, these are matters for the United States and for the parties concerned to work out. We are concerned with focusing our attention upon supporting the proposals that have been produced by King Hussein and the Palestinians, which we think are a basis for progress.

Will the Minister answer the question asked by his hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Walters) about the testing of a nuclear device by the Israelis?

Yes, Sir. I must apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Walters) that I lost sight of the question. I think that it concerned trigger weapons, on which we have seen reports of their export from the United States to Israel. We have seen these reports, we are concerned by them, but we have no knowledge about this. The House will be aware that Israel is not a signatory to or a member of the non-proliferation treaty. We believe that it would be in her interests and in international interests if she were now to sign the treaty.

I think that the issue concerning us mostly now is the report from the United States that the American Navy Department, after examining the results of an explosion in the south Atlantic, came to the conclusion that it was the explosion of a nuclear weapon and might well have been an Israeli weapon tested by the South Africans. Have the British Government any information of this?

The Minister may answer, but I thought that the south Atlantic was not in the middle east. [HON MEMBERS: "Israeli weapons".]

I do not know that it is for the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) to interpret the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury, but I understood him to be talking about the trigger mechanism. With regard to Israel, all I would say is that it would be very much in the international interest if Israel were to sign the non-proliferation treaty. I think that that is the most important thing.