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Middle East

Volume 130: debated on Wednesday 30 March 1988

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

We support current efforts to promote the convening of an international conference as a framework for negotiations to resolve the Arab-Israel conflict. We hope that all the parties concerned will avoid action which could stifle progress towards a settlement.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that his phrase about the avoidance of action should apply to the current repression carried out by the Israelis against the Palestinians, which is reminiscent of the tactics used by their South African allies against the non-white population there?

Following the question by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), does my hon. and learned Friend think that it would be sensible to discuss with our EEC allies some form of action relating Israel's willingness to move towards peace with a willingness on the part of the EEC to grant concessions to Israeli exports?

There is no doubt that there has been a sharp and regrettable deterioration in conditions within the occupied territories in recent days. Seven people were killed over the weekend, a 50-year-old woman was shot dead today and in the past 10 days several hundred and perhaps more than a thousand people have been detained in circumstances which fall short of proper judicial standards. I should have thought that it would be self-evident to the Government of Israel by now that the Palestinian problem will have to be met by some means other than repression. The opportunity exists, within the framework of the American initiative, for proper talks to take place on the principle of territory for peace. Unless the Israelis are prepared to do that I fear that their 40th anniversary year will be a grave disappointment both to them and to the rest of the world.

Does my hon. Friend recall that this year there must be a general election in Israel, when the basic issue must be the peace process? Does he realise that many friends of Israel outside that country are hoping that the electors of Israel will listen to Mr. Peres and others who are putting forward peace proposals?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that typically constructive comment. It is crucial that, whatever else people disagree about, they agree that the status quo is no longer an option. If it were maintained there would be more bloodshed and more calling into question of the fundamental principles on which the state of Israel was rightly founded. The sooner that people come to grips with that and begin serious discussion, the sooner we can, I hope, make further progress.