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Israel: Assurances Sought By European Community

Volume 432: debated on Wednesday 30 June 1982

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2.47 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 they will publish in the Official Report the assurance sought from Israel by the European Community following the invasion of Lebanon and the reply received: and as a result what consideration has now been given to the further postponement of the 40 million dollar financial protocol, to a revision of the Community's trade agreement with Israel, and to trade sanctions and an embargo on arms supplies.

My Lords, I am arranging for the text of the assurances sought from the Israeli Government to be circulated in the Official Report. I regret that no satisfactory reply has been received. The situation in Lebanon was discussed at the European Council in Brussels on 28th and 29th June. The Belgian presidency announced on 29th June that signature of the European Community/Israel Financial Protocol would remain suspended and that a forthcoming ministerial meeting between Israel and the Community had been postponed. The presidency also noted that no military equipment was being supplied to Israel by member states of the Ten.

Following is the text referred to above:

The following assurances were sought by the Belgian Presidency, on behalf of the Ten, from the Israeli Government on 14th June:

  • 1. That the Government of Israel will apply the relevant Geneva Conventions, especially as regards prisoners.
  • 2. That it will admit international relief organisations to the territory which its forces have occupied, and will facilitate their work.
  • 3. That it will similarly admit and give normal facilities to representatives of the media.
  • 4. That it recognises both the sovereign state of Lebanon and the international frontier between Lebanon and Israel.
  • 5. That it has no wish to annex or occupy any part of the territory of Lebanon.
  • 6. That it will not interfere in the internal affairs of Lebanon.
  • 7. It will co-operate fully with the Secretary General of the UN in all the areas of his responsibility.
  • 8. It has no hostile intentions towards the Palestinian people.
  • 9. It has no aggressive intention towards neighbouring countries, particularly Syria.
  • 10. Its intention is to observe the cease-fire which has been established, so long as all combatants in the region do likewise.
  • It was made clear that these concerns of the Ten Governments were expressed in the context of their wish to work for the establishment of a global, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, in the framework of which a Lebanon free from the cycle of violence would be able to take its place as an independent, sovereign and united state.

    My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, if the Community's high-sounding protests are to be taken really seriously, they must be accompanied by some more positive action; in particular, perhaps, a total ban on arms supplies and an end to all trade preferences and credits, while Israel remains in occupation of the Lebanon? Secondly, may I put a brief question about prisoners which is worrying many people? Can my noble friend say how many prisoners are in Israeli hands and whether the Red Cross is still not being allowed access to them? Can he confirm that what Israel is doing is in flagrant breach of Article 4 of the 1949 Geneva Convention? In particular, can he confirm the many frightening eyewitness accounts of the brutality being shown by the Israelis towards their prisoners? Will he tell your Lordships' House that Her Majesty's Government are doing all they can with our partners in Europe, and I hope with America, to bring to an end this extremely unsatisfactory situation?

    My Lords, my noble friend calls for a total ban so far as arms and trade are concerned. I should like to make it clear that Her Majesty's Government have decided that approval of licences for the export of British military equipment to Israel will be withheld until further notice. So far as trade is concerned, a number of measures were discussed in Brussels, but it was felt that those measures, subsequently announced by the European Community presidency, were as far as the Ten wished to go in present circumstances. Thirdly, my noble friend asked me: whether Article 4 of the Geneva Convento whether the specific Question which my noble friend asked me: whether Articles 4 of the Geneva Convention applies strictly to the PLO in this conflict, it is our hope that the Israelis will act according to the convention's principles.

    My noble friend will notice from the text of the assurances which were sought that the first assurance sought relates to whether the Israeli Government will apply the relevant Geneva conventions, especially for prisoners. I repeat that I regret that no satisfactory reply has been received to that or to the other assurances. So far as the position of the International Committee of the Red Cross is concerned, I am advised that it has not gained access to prisoners at the present time.

    My Lords, does the noble Lord the Minister agree that in difficult international situations such as exist at this moment in the Middle East, one-sided questions and one-sided debates in this House do not enhance the role of the United Kingdom but depreciate it?

    My Lords, we have made, on behalf of the Government, our position absolutely clear. We very much hope that Mr. Philip Habib's continuing negotiations with the Lebanese Government will result in a durable cease-fire and withdrawal of forces as a first step. After that, our position—when I say "our position" I mean the position of the Ten in Europe—is absolutely clear. We have voted for Security Council Resolution 509, we have made our statement in Brussels and we stand by the Venice principles. It is the last point which answers the noble Lord's question. The Venice principles are even-handed. We hope and pray that, through that even-handed approach, peace may come to the Middle East.

    My Lords, would it not be true to say that, in war, civilian casualties are inevitable, especially when the enemy uses the civilian population as a shield? Why is there so much more compassion for civilian casualties inadvertently caused by the Israelis than there was for the civilian casualties caused by the PLO when they shelled settlements and planted bombs?

    My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that civilian casualties in a conflict of this nature are tragically almost inevitable. It was for that reason that the second assurance for which the Ten asked from the Israeli Government was admission of international relief organisations to the territory which Israeli forces have occupied and facilitating the work of international relief organisations. We are still waiting anxiously for a reply to that question, although I am glad to have been advised before this afternoon's Question that relief organisations are now making their way into Lebanon.

    My Lords, has the noble Lord noted that the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, apart from a wholesale condemnation of the state of Israel without regard to any justification on the side of Israel whatsoever, is asking for assurances of the most drastic character from Israel, is demanding the imposition of sanctions, is demanding that there should be withdrawal of the necessary finance to which Israel is entitled? In the circumstances of the condemnation for which the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, is responsible and as there does not appear to be a satisfactory answer from the Government—indeed, it is far from satisfactory—has it occurred to the noble Lord that there is an opening for the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, and those who agree with him: that if they cannot obtain satisfaction by imposing sanctions, by destroying Israel's trade, by imposing financial difficulties on them, they should go to war with Israel?

    My Lords, I am not entirely sure whether the terms of my noble friend's Question are, in a sense, being imputed to the Government by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, or whether the Answer which I gave to my noble friend is being described by the noble Lord as unsatisfactory. Certainly I do not think that the stance of the Government in this difficult and tragic matter is unsatisfactory. We have put our name to the statement made yesterday by the Ten in Brussels. I believe that statement to be right. We stand by the principles of the Venice Declaration. I believe that declaration to be even-handed and to be fair. And we are signatories to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 509 which calls for a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces.

    My Lords, while the statement may well have been right, is there any reason to suppose that condemnation and exhortation, whether by the Community or by 127 members of the United Nations, will have the slightest effect on people like Mr. Begin and Mr. Sharon? Can the noble Lord say what arguments were used by those Community Governments which opposed the imposition of sanctions? They were quite effective against the Argentine régime.

    My Lords, in answer to the second question, I am afraid that I cannot, because I was not present at the discussions. However, I repeat that at the discussions among the Ten there certainly were countries which felt that the Ten had gone far enough in the stance which had been taken in this very difficult matter. So far as the power of exhortation and words are concerned, what we hope—this was the first point I made and perhaps your Lordships will agree that it should be the last—is that Mr. Phillip Habib's negotiations are now going to bring peace to the Middle East.

    My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord why Her Majesty's Government subscribed to a communiqué which had the glaring omission of not declaring unequivocally that the PLO should leave Lebanon? Does he not agree that the communiqué envisages that residual units of the PLO should still remain in Lebanon? Does not the Minister also agree that there would be no hope for stable statehood in Lebanon once there was a base in Lebanon for the PLO as an international terrorist organisation and a base for acts of murder and destruction against Northern Galilee?

    My Lords, I am not entirely sure that the noble Lord is not, perhaps inadvertently, being a little unfair so far as the statement is concerned.

    The reason I reply in that way is this. The statement included as a first step a call for withdrawal to be simultaneous: the Israelis from their positions around Beirut, the PLO from West Beirut. The statement then went on to call for the withdrawal of all foreign forces except those which would be authorised by a legitimate future Government of Lebanon. I believe that is the right way to go about it. That is what the statement said.

    My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster, has been trying to get in for some time. I suggest that she should ask her question and that then we should move on to the last Question.

    My Lords, am I right in thinking that the noble Lord is still obliged to tell me that the Israelis are not allowing supplies into Beirut by sea by the International Committee of the Red Cross but that they are allowing civilians to be evacuated out of Beirut by sea?

    My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Baroness, but I cannot give a direct answer to that question. This is bound up among the assurances, to which we have asked for a direct reply. We have not received the direct reply which we had hoped for from the Israelis. I, like the noble Baroness, have of course been reading the newspapers and hearing the news, but I cannot give a better answer than the one which I have given during our short debate this afternoon.

    I think it really would be appropriate now to move on to the next Question.