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Middle East

Volume 126: debated on Monday 1 February 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if, in view of recent events on the West Bank and in Gaza, he will indicate what steps Her Majesty's Government propose in order to speed up the middle east peace process.

We shall continue to work for an international conference under United Nations auspices as the framework for negotiations between the parties directly concerned.

My right hon. and learned Friend and my hon. and learned Friend have both rightly condemned Israeli repression on the West Bank and in Gaza. They have also condemned Mr. Rabin's repellent speech advocating beatings, power and might as the guidelines of Israeli policy in the area. What next? Surely this must be the time to put greater steam behind a peace initiative and to make it clear that the Palestinians must be entitled to choose their own representatives at any talks that follow.

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is crucial that the concern be translated into effective action. We believe that action should proceed in two ways. First, immediate palliative action should consist, as the Secretary-General's report to the United Nations following Mr. Goulding's visit made clear, of enhancing the work of the United Nations relief organisation and continuing the pressure on the Israeli Government to mitigate the aspects of occupation that cause the gravest hardship. Those palliatives will not be enough. The second strand has to be to work for a resumption of the peace process. That should come from all who acknowledge that the status quo cannot stand. That is why I welcome very much, as my right hon. and learned Friend does, the resumption of interest in the United States in a peace process. My hon. Friend will have seen that the Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. Murphy, is to visit the region following the visit earlier of the special United States emissary to Jordan. We obviously hope that that initiative will bear fruit, because clearly the United States has the prime influence on the Israelis.

Has the Minister seen the admission made this morning by Racal-Tacticom, and reported in the Daily Telegraph, that it has been supplying goods to the PLO? Does he agree with the Downing street statement this week that sections of the PLO have engaged in "appalling acts of terrorism"? In those circumstances, how can it be right that no licence is required, apparently, for sending to the PLO telecommunications equipment which presumably will not be used to convey affectionate greetings?

I cannot add to the answer that the hon. and learned Gentleman received to a similar question that he addressed to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who answered the private notice question yesterday. The hon. and learned Gentleman knows our position on the PLO. He knows that part of our call for a sensible settlement in the middle east is that the PLO should legitimate itself in the ways that I have already set out in answer to an earlier question.

Will my hon. and learned Friend and the Foreign Secretary bear in mind that if Europe does nothing, the American Administration invariably end up doing what the Israeli Government and the Zionist pressure group tell them to do? Will he therefore assure the House that the so-called peace process will not be left to the American Government, but that Europe will play its proper part to bring it about?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that question. Plainly there is a role for others. That role is taken seriously within Europe. Indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend will on Monday attend a meeting of European Foreign Ministers who will be meeting King Hussein. I dare say that European interests and the European initiative will be made clear then.

As one who strenuously defended the Israelis' position in 1967—I believe that I was right to do so, unlike the right hon. Member for Chesham arid Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) — I am appalled arid horrified at the response of Israeli authorities in the occupied territories, for which there can be absolutely no justification. Would it not be right for Israelis to recognise that the Palestinians also have a right to their homeland? In 40 years they have not forgotten Palestine, any more than the Jewish people, during 2,000 years of exile and persecution, forgot for one moment their historic homeland.

That is a very brave statement, and I commend the hon. Gentleman for it. Many of us who took one view in 1967 have perhaps come to look at matters in a slightly different light today. It is plainly dangerous that the present situation should continue. The scenes that vie see nightly on our television screens are damaging to the reputation of Israel. Whatever might be the problems of the past—there have been great faults on the Arab side in relation to sustained aggression against Israel—if the people of these territories are to have any future, and if there is to be a sustained peace in the region, it can come about only because neighbours learn to co-exist rather than rely on the point of a gun to achieve lasting security. That is why we must continue to assert that middle east peace can be based only on all states in the region agreeing that each state has a right to exist behind secure boundaries and that the Palestinians have a right to self-determination. That is the only basis on which a lasting peace will be achieved.