Skip to main content

Middle East

Volume 124: debated on Wednesday 16 December 1987

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


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

We welcome the Amman summit's endorsement of a peace conference under United Nations auspices and have called on all concerned to agree arrangements for the conference to be held as soon as possible. I shall be discussing these and other matters with senior Israeli Ministers when I visit Israel next month.

In the context of non-progress towards a peace settlement, is my hon. and learned Friend aware that in the past few weeks Israeli repression on the West Bank and in Gaza has been responsible for the killing of more than 20 Palestinians, including several schoolchildren? Bearing in mind that we are a permanent member of the Security Council, even if we cannot compel Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories in accordance with United Nation's resolution, could we not at least do something to curb the brutality of its army of occupation?

We are seriously concerned by the current upsurge in violent incidents, especially in Gaza, and have registered that concern with the Israeli authorities. Certainly, we hope that the Israeli occupation forces will respond in a humane and de-escalatory manner to the incidents that are taking place, because it is important not to intensify the cycle of violence. Of course, we deplore violence from whatever quarter it comes. However, it illustrates the dangers that are inherent in unresolved conflicts and the urgency of the search for a long-term, peaceful settlement in that area.

In the context of the persistent initiatives of Israel's Foreign Minister, Mr. Shimon Peres, for a peace conference, in the setting of the most welcome visit of Israel's President, Chaim Herzog, which ends today, and in recognition of 40 years of Israel's vibrant democracy, which it is now celebrating, will the Minister take this opportunity to express the Government's salute to that democracy and to the joint efforts of Her Majesty's Government and the Israeli Government to achieve that peace settlement and the resolution of those unhappy disputes which lead to such misery for all concerned?

It is a key element of the British Government's policy to recognise the right of Israel to secure existence, and of course we welcome Israel's celebrating its 40th anniversary. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and others are engaged regularly in discussions, notably with Mr. Peres, on the need for an international conference to try to resolve the long-standing problems, particularly of the occupied territories, without which one suspects the future of Israel will be difficult. I very much regret that the position put forward by some in favour of an international conference is not the position of all the Israeli Government.

Will my hon. and learned Friend tell the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) that the vibrancy of Israeli democracy is most strongly felt by the beat of Israeli truncheons on the necks of Palestinian children? Will he tell the Israeli President, who is currently in this country, that the murderous activities of his arrogant stormtroopers in territories in which they have no right to be is totally unacceptable to the House? Will he tell him further, most strongly, that if no action is taken to resolve this issue the Government will take action to help to resolve it?

We must be careful not to appear like competing football fans cheering on our teams in the dispute. Our view is quite clear—I believe the feeling is shared by many people within the state of Israel—that there can be no long-term security for the state of Israel if now almost 50 per cent., and in the future more than 50 per cent., of its citizens are not Israelis but Arabs, many of whom do not feel that they ought to be in Israel. Until that position is resolved, there will be instability. That is why we are doing our best in a non-propagandist way to call for an international conference, in the hope that the moderate leadership of the Arab world will be able to come to terms with the Government of Israel and make some progress under the auspices of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

I join, perhaps rarely, the Minister in the moderate words that he used and say that Labour Members are strongly repelled by the killings in recent days in the Gaza strip and the West Bank. Is he aware that we share the widespread repugnance in the world, even among the friends of the state of Israel, at the use of live ammunition to suppress dissidents in the occupied territories, when their continued existence threatens the permanent peace of the region? Will he take steps to pursue more vigorously the idea of an international conference and to persuade the Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Shamir—as distinct from his Foreign Minister Peres — of the reckless and almost suicidal nature of his opposition to an international conference?

Very real vigour is being brought to bear on this. If the hon. Gentleman had read the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend to the Conservative Friends of Israel in October he would have seen very great vigour there. We should continue to try to bring to bear all the sensible pressure that we can to make those concerned with the resolution of the dispute realise the reality of the position. I say to the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), who asked about this earlier, when asking me to commend Israeli democracy, as I am prepared to do, that that democracy is not extended to the occupied territories. Until it is, or until the position is resolved otherwise, there will never be the harmony that we want to see.