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Palestine

Volume 130: debated on Wednesday 30 March 1988

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7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's policy towards the current United States initiative to restore peace in Palestine.

We welcome the re-engagement of the United States in the peace process and support its efforts to help the parties reach agreement on a way forward.

In view of the four wars that have taken place in its 40 years of existence and the continuing threats to Israel's security, does my right hon. and learned Friend have sympathy with and support for Israel's insistence on the maintenance of a defence line along the River Jordan as part of any solution? if Israel says no to the Shultz peace proposals, must it not come forward with its own proposals, which respect the right of self-determination of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, to bring the present intolerable situation there to a halt as soon as possible?

What my hon. Friend says underlines what is very clear — that the status quo is in nobody's interests and that the continuation of deadlock only encourages extremists on both sides. That is why I have already welcomed the re-engagement of the United States in the peace process and why I am sure that the whole House will wish Secretary of State Shultz success on his next visit to the region. A way forward has to be found on the basis of the two principles which have been enunciated so often. They are the right of Israel and other states in the area to secure existence within recognised boundaries — I make no comment on my hon. Friend's point — and the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

While he does not condone the policy of settlement and all that has followed from it, will the Secretary of State recognise the obvious fact that Israel has a strategic problem because of the narrowness of the country? Will he press at least for a demilitarised zone on the West Bank?

Israel clearly has a security problem. That is why every approach to the solution of the problem emphasises the need for recognition of Israel's right to exist within secure boundaries. It is equally important for the other side of the matter to be emphasised, namely, that unless Israel is prepared quite explicitly to recognise the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to proceed on the footing of the vital principle of territory for peace, there is no prospect of a way forward being found.

Bearing in mind that over the years every American peace initiative in the middle east has collapsed in the face of Isreali rejection, what hope does my right hon. and learned Friend hold out for the Shultz initiative? Bearing in mind the continuing and appalling acts of repression by Israel on the West Bank, will Her Majesty's Government and the EEC this time intervene to tr) to give some muscle to bolster the American initiative?

The position of the European Community and its member countries, including the United Kingdom, has been clearly and powerfully expressed in support of the principles that I have enunciated. It would be wrong to dismiss in advance the chances of success of the latest initiative being taken by the American Secretary of State. Of course, we should not underestimate the difficulties, but it remains vital to continue every effort to bring the parties together and we welcome it on that basis.

It is quite right that the conduct of Israel in relation to the occupied territories is an important feature that has to be put right as part of the process of finding a way forward.

Is not the useful initiative by Mr. Shultz seriously undermined by the comfort that President Reagan foolishly gave to Mr. Shamir when Mr. Shamir visited Washington recently? Is it not a fact that the escalating repression in the occupied territories has demonstrated, by what is happening today, including the shooting of a woman on the West Bank and the closing down of the Palestine press service, that the problem will not be solved by repression or force but only by a conference, and that the obstacle to that conference is Mr. Shamir?

Is it not essential that we put pressure on Mr. Shamir, and recommend the Americans to do so too, because we will not get an end to the conflict without a conference, and we will not get a conference until Mr. Shamir is budged?

I think that the right hon. Gentleman's analysis is very close to the truth. The House must regret that the opportunity was not taken during Mr. Shamir's recent visit to Washington to confirm Israel's commitment to the current peace efforts being undertaken by Secretary of State Shultz. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the continuing escalation of violence is a measure of the urgency of making headway in that direction, above all in the cause of Israel. The policies being pursued by Prime Minister Shamir cannot assure Israel of a secure future. Israel needs peace as much as anyone, and that peace can come about only through real negotiations.

It is entirely right for the House to urge Israel to join the almost universal consensus in support of negotiations on the basis of land for peace through the framework of an international conference. It is equally important for the Arab side to recognise that it cannot afford to miss another chance as it has an equally urgent need for peace. I urge it to work with the plan put forward by the United States.