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Middle East: Eec Peace Initiative

Volume 413: debated on Thursday 9 October 1980

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3.18 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether it is the intention of the European Community to make clear their views on the prospects for peace in the Middle East in advance of any new American initiative or declaration of policy, now that the EEC mission has reported.

My Lords, work is continuing in the Nine on the basis of M. Thorn's report and the principles set out in the Venice Declaration, which remain valid. Contacts with all interested parties will be maintained. The Nine remain determined to make a constructive contribution towards a settlement.

My Lords, may I press my noble friend to add to that somewhat negative reply by asking him, first, whether he can confirm that M. Gaston Thorn, on his return from his fact-finding mission in the Middle East, said that the second stage of the European initiative should be to explain how it is envisaged that the Palestine Liberation Organisation could join the negotiations for a peace settlement? And in more general terms, may I ask my noble friend whether he does not share the view that there is a real risk that unless there is a follow-up, and a positive one, fairly soon to the very welcome Venice Summit Statement made by the Community, if need be independently of the United States, the words used on that occasion are bound to have an increasingly hollow ring in the ears of moderate Jewish and Arab opinion which exists in far larger numbers than many people realise, and at the same time is bound to encourage extreme views on both sides?

My Lords, M. Thorn's mission has only just been completed. The results of his discussions are still being assessed, and it is too early to say what the next step will be. As for the position of the PLO, to which my noble friend referred, it is a significant element of Palestinian opinion, and it is not I think realistic to suggest that a settlement can be achieved without some participation from it.

My Lords, will the noble Lord not accept that it would be extremely unfortunate if this European initiative were in any way to confuse or undermine the Camp David arrangements that are already under way?

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord. The European initiative is designed to run in parallel with the Camp David process.

My Lords, following on from what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has said, I should like to press the noble Lord to answer the question of whether it would not be better to give every support to the Camp David process and the Camp David signatories, since the United States, Israel, and Egypt have made it quite clear that they do not want a European intervention. Would it not be more productive to allow this process to continue without any further interference, especially at a time when the situation in the Gulf is as alarming as it is?

My Lords, the purpose of M. Thorn's recent mission was of course to determine the views of the various participants to the conflict in that part of the world, and I would not at all agree that this precludes progress on the Camp David process.

My Lords, are we deluding ourselves if we think that the European Community has a magic formula for success or progress in resolving the Middle East conflict? Surely we should still stick to the American views in this area.

My Lords, of course I agree that the European Community has no magic formula in this matter, but the Community is now a powerful political force in the world, and I believe that it can make an effective contribution on this problem.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord again to consider the position very seriously? Is he aware that the action that is being taken at present with regard to recognition, directly or indirectly, of the PLO cannot possibly be accepted, particularly in view of the fact that the PLO is continuing to state that it is out for the destruction of Israel? —and any help, in the nature of recognition of the PLO, is obviously a stab at Israel itself. May I ask the noble Lord to realise that while from time to time many arguments have been used to the effect that the main and important subject in so far as peace in the Middle East is concerned is Israel, present circumstances will, I think, show to the world as a whole, and to us in particular, that that is not the case and that Israel has nothing at all to do, for example, with what is happening at present. In those circumstances, will the noble Lord please revise his attitude towards the situation?

My Lords, the noble Lord has on many occasions in your Lordships' House complained about what we propose in this matter, but I would say again to him that a unilateral solution to this problem is not possible. We believe that it is necessary to take account of the views of all the interested parties.

My Lords, are not the Government aware that there is a strong section of opinion that feels that the Camp David process has slightly run into the sands (if your Lordships will excuse a metaphor) because the Palestinians have to all intents and purposes been excluded from this? Is the noble Lord not aware that for Israel to survive in the long term and in peace a solution must be found with the Palestinians, who at present seem to be represented by the Palestine Liberation Organisation, whether we like it or not?

My Lords, it is true that the Camp David process has not of late made as much progress as we would have hoped, but it is far from dead. Certainly what my noble friend said in the remainder of his supplementary question is true.

My Lords, is it not undeniable that the European Community has at least as great a moral obligation, and at least as many vested interests, in seeking a workable and peaceful solution to the problems of the Middle East as has the United States? Why should we hang back in trying to further this initiative, bearing in mind in particular that President Sadat has said that he would welcome a European initiative in parallel with the Camp David one?

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is reinforcing what I have said; namely, that the European initiative should run in parallel with the Camp David process.