Middle East
Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Photo of Mr Greville Janner

Mr Greville Janner (Leicester West)

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

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd

Hon. Douglas Hurd (Witney)

The peace process continued in a fourth round of bilateral negotiations in Washington last week. A regional settlement remains an important and realistic aim. It is encouraging that all parties remain determined to continue the process. I strongly applaud Mr. Baker's continued commitment to pushing for a settlement and we will maintain our full support of that effort.

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Mr Greville Janner (Leicester West)

I am sure that the Secretary of State recognises the sensitivities of the middle east peace process. As he knows that the Syrians spent the money that they received for their support during the Gulf war on sophisticated missiles from North Korea—all of which are pointing towards Israel—can he reassure the House that Britain is not getting involved in that arms process? Will he confirm the inaccuracy of reports stating that British Aerospace is involved with Egyptian scientists in uprating scud B missiles for use by the Egyptian army? Surely we must keep out of that arms process, if we are to maintain our nation's influence in the peace process that we all hope will succeed.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd

Hon. Douglas Hurd (Witney)

The position regarding the supply of arms to Syria remains as it was when Ministers were last questioned about it in the House. As for Egypt, I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman is seriously suggesting that it is about to launch an attack on Israel, or is to be feared in that connection. Egypt's pioneering efforts in regard to peacemaking are well established and respected, and I do not consider such a line of questioning helpful.

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Mr Dennis Walters (Westbury)

Now that the Palestinians have presented serious proposals on autonomy, does my right hon. Friend agree that no progress can be made unless Israel responds by agreeing to freeze the illegal settlements, and by abiding by the Geneva convention? In that context, is not the continued closure of Bir Zeit university, which was announced the other day, an intolerable provocation, and should not it be condemned?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd

Hon. Douglas Hurd (Witney)

Clearly, it is good that the Israelis and the Palestinians are sitting around a table in Washington, and that each side is advancing ideas for the future of the occupied territories. That is a considerable plus. I have not yet studied the Palestinian proposals, which, I believe, were tabled only yesterday, but I hope that there will now be proper discussion of the proposals that are on the table.

Given that background, my hon. Friend is right in saying that—as we have often commented—the Israelis ought to halt the policy of establishing settlements in the occupied terrorities which is provocative and, in our view, illegal. I equally deplore the continued closure of Bir Zeit.

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Ms Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next plans to meet the Israeli ambassador to discuss the Government's policy on the occupied territories.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has no specific plans to meet the ambassador, but both he and I have met him recently. We are in regular contact with the Israeli Government at the highest level on this issue.

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Ms Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

Will the Minister take time in the next week, as a matter of urgency, to meet the Israeli ambassador and tell him about the feeling in the country generally that the Israeli Government are literally getting away with murder? I refer to the case of Mustapha Akkawi, who was killed after being tortured in prison just over a week ago.

Just what does Israel have to do—what can it get away with—before the Government are prepared to do something internationally about sanctions and to treat Israel as we treat other countries that break the Geneva convention?

Photo of Mr Douglas Hogg

Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

Like the hon. Lady, we believe that the fourth Geneva convention—the protocol—applies to the occupied territories. When grave breaches of the convention occur, we raise them frequently, and directly, with the Israelis. The incident mentioned by the hon. Lady is clearly deplorable, as are the deportations that occur from time to time and the closures of universities, about which we have also protested.

The hon. Lady can be sure of this: we do protest to the Israeli Government when there are clear, serious and obvious breaches of international law.

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Mr Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

Does my hon. and learned Friend recognise that, in recent years, several hundred Arabs have been murdered by terrorists for co-operating with the Israelis? Does he accept that those brutal killings, which are still taking place, do not help the peace process?

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the pattern of killing involving those who are described as collaborators. That is dreadful and we deplore it, as we deplore all violence. It emphasises the importance of trying to push ahead with the peace process that is now under way.