Middle East

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:39 pm on 15th April 1983.

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Photo of Mr Peter Temple-Morris Mr Peter Temple-Morris , Leominster 1:39 pm, 15th April 1983

I beg to move, That this House, whilst it might feel disposed to disagree with and even condemn Israel for her expansionist policies with particular reference to West Bank settlements and for her invasion of, and conduct and continued presence in, the Lebanon, and likewise might question the lack of unity and foresight in the Arab World including the Palestine Liberation Organisation, is far more concerned with achieving peace in the Middle East; in this regard, in recognising both the rights of the State of Israel to exist within its pre-1967 borders and the Palestinians eventually to have an independent sovereign state, calls on all parties involved to make progress based on President Reagan's current Peace Initiative, to which there is no feasible alternative at the present time; urges the United States of America to exercise the necessary pressure on Israel, not least as to its presence in the Lebanon and its settlements policy on the West Bank, in order to give United States proposals a reasonable chance of success; urges everyone concerned to influence moderate Arab opinion and the Palestine Liberation Organisation to act in the best interests of those living on the West Bank as well as Palestinians as a whole; and emphasizes that failure now can only encourage the extremes on both sides with very serious consequences for all. I know that many hon. Members wish to speak and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office for recognising in the previous debate the need to allow as many hon. Members as possible to take part in this debate. I cannot promise that this will be the finest speech that I have ever made. I intend to put my head down and try to get through it, and, therefore, I appeal to hon. Members not to encourage me to take part in detailed argument, even though they may be tempted to interrupt me, because I, as a generous hon. Member, may be tempted to give way.

As is implicit in the motion, hope that we shall try to rise above the normal, and in present circumstances perhaps unavoidable, sectarian exchanges that tend to creep into our proceedings, whether in debates or at Question Time.

My motion tries to reflect matters fairly and I hope that my speech will appeal to moderate Israeli opinion as much as to Arab opinion. As an example of my bona fides in introducing the debate, I declare my personal interest in the issues involved. Most hon. Members know that my view has always been pro-Arab, but it has never been blindly one-sided and I have always tried to put a reasonably balanced case. As proof of that, I cite the facts that, with hon. Members from both sides of the House, I had the pleasure of meeting Chairman Arafat and the pleasure of lunching alone with Ambassador Shlomo Argov a month or two before the disgraceful attack on him in Park Lane.

So that hon. Members know what I shall be dealing with, let me list the subjects of my speech in the order in which I shall deal with them. I shall make some comments about Israel, which may not necessarily be to Israel's pleasure, but will, I hope, be fair; I shall speak about the Arabs and the PLO; most importantly, I shall talk about the role of the United States and, if I have time, I shall end with a few words about Europe and about Britain's role.

I understand that Israel is ruled by those who lived through the holocaust. Therefore, we are dealing with a leadership, a nation and a people to whom the security and survival—I use the word advisedly—of the state are of the utmost importance. The motion does not dispute, and nor will my speech, the fact Israel should exist within its pre-1967 borders. The difference arises over the Israeli Government's concept of the security of the state and my concept of that.

I think that some Israelis would agree with me that their Government is a Right-wing and extremely hard regime. That makes it more difficult than ever to reach peace. I am convinced that the Israeli regime, while reacting to the options of the moment, has every intention of eventually annexing the West Bank.

I wish to deal with settlements and with the Israelis' occupation of, or presence in, Lebanon. I appreciate that there are a number of arguments about the settlements policy of Israel and that the establishment of settlements is a traditional Israeli and Zionist way of proceeding. It has a long history and predates the existence of the state of Israel, but it is disgraceful and illegal. There are a frightening number of settlements. According to figures that I saw this week, there are 108 settlements in existence and only last Sunday we heard the deliberately defiant announcement that 57 more settlements are to be established, against the efforts of the United States, inadequate as they are, to bring about peace. They come as part of a 30-year plan, if matters ever proceed for that long and if one can have such a plan to produce parity of population at 1·3 million. Therefore, the issue of annexation will become part of history.

The atmosphere on the West bank of Jordan — as anybody who has been there will agree, or will at least sympathise with the feelings that I have been describing —is one of an occupied territory. It is horrifying that virtually every habitation—this is true also of major Arab towns — is surrounded by white apartment buildings, usually on the top of a hill. Sometimes these are inhabited as second homes by Israeli citizens and emigrant Jews. This is the deliberate, psychological use by those who, of all people, should know better of a method that establishes among the Arab population nothing more nor less than the ghetto mentality.

The economy of Greater Jordan, including the West Bank as a whole, and the "public utilities" are increasingly becoming linked with, and part of, Israel. In the light of that, when one examines what Israeli Ministers say one realises that progress towards annexation must be stopped sooner rather than later. Only recently Professor Yuvan Ne'eman, the Israeli Minister in charge of settlement policy, said in a television programme: My party is the party that is for straightforward, immediate annexation of Judaea and Samaria and Gaza. As such, we need two things for this to become fact: On the one hand, the legal side—simply the establishing of Israeli law everywhere; the other thing is creating facts so that it (ie the territory occupied sunce 1967) can't be detached any more. The occupation of the Lebanon was an unnecessary and overdone invasion. Many Israelis agree with that view, and it is significant that many of the military are returning the decorations that Mr. Begin has seen fit to give them. The invasion has led—this is a classic example of the way of violence not being the proper way for the future —to the scattering of the PLO. No doubt the Israeli Right rubbed its hands in glee and thinks that the threat has left, but that scattering has, unfortunately, led to a weakening of the position of Chairman Arafat and a strengthening of the extremes in that organisation. It has also strengthened the role played in the PLO by countries such as Syria, and has made the finding of a solution even more difficult.

I do not wish to be emotional in any way about Israeli conduct during the invasion of the Lebanon, but I wish to put on record in my speech, rushed though it is, that Sabra and Chatilla, judged as they have been by the Kahane commission, were excesses for which Israel will never be forgiven. General Eitan's recent comment, which I am delighted to say has been condemned by many members of the Israeli Labour party, was disgraceful. He spoke about establishing settlements between Jerusalem and Mabluz so that all that the Arabs would be able to do was to scurry around like cockroaches in a bottle. I know that General Eitan has been properly judged by Kahane, and that his career is virtually over, but it is that attitude that is making Israel a less popular country than it might otherwise be.

There is, unfortunately, evidence that the Israelis intend to stay in the Lebanon—not only in south Lebanon, but right up into central Lebanon. A report by Robert Fisk in The Times only this week illustrates the fact that, at the very moment when the Israelis are supposed to be negotiating a withdrawal of foreign troops from the Lebanon, they are building bases and installations across southern and central Lebanon.

The PLO must be involved in the settlement of this difficult matter, and therefore must be treated accordingly. Hon. Members on both sides of the House know only too well that the PLO must play its part in that process. Indeed, that has been the purpose of President Reagan's initiative and other efforts.

In dealing with the PLO and assessing what it says, we must appreciate its difficulties as an exiled organisation. We must bear in mind that, without the discipline of national power, it is far more difficult to control an organisation. This tends to happen not only with the PLO, but with other organisations, and I have personal experience of some of them. There is a danger that the PLO, which in its way is trying to remain as moderate as it can, will foster in its schools, its children and its generations born in exile the revolutionary idea and cult that leads to ready candidates for extremism, who can, if nothing is done, do immense harm to an area far beyond that in which they are immediately interested.

Not unnaturally, the PLO is concerned with preserving its unity. Is that best for the Palestinians as a whole? The PLO should address its mind to that question. It should take action—perhaps Chairman Arafat, who is at the moment negotiating with King Hussein, might bear this in mind—for Palestinians as a whole and for those who live on the West Bank, who perhaps should come first in this matter. There is a real danger that unless the PLO compromises now—I address my remarks to the PLO because it is no more perfect than anyone else involved in this matter—it could become an extremist organisation in the hands of certain of the more radical states which might not have Western interests so dear to their hearts as other states. Such a development could play into the hands of extremist Israelis. Throughout this matter one has had a rather "laid back" attitude to Israel based on the inability of the Arab world sufficiently to create a united front to be able to play its full part in bringing this matter to an end.

Israel gives not an inch in trying to understand this matter, and perhaps should give a lead by an initiative, a compromise, or some giving, which would make a solution at least feasible. All the Arab states are, for one reason or another, vulnerable. The Gulf has money but is weak and fears that it will go down like a pack of cards. It fears just about everything in sight and has neither the strength nor the courage to dictate events. If the Gulf states had such strength and courage, and if moderate Arab states combined for peace and included Egypt, which would end her isolation, which was brought about by the Camp David process, we might be in business, with a sufficiently powerful chunk of the Arab world united together to act. That is not the case at the moment.

Jordan obviously needs a settlement, for its own stability. It has obvious fears for the future that if there should not be a Palestinian state where it should be, Jordan might find itself becoming more and more a Palestinian state. I say no more about that, but obviously there are understandable fears there.

Iraq is otherwise engaged at present, but it is a very important nation to the west. Syria will radicalise the PLO if it has the slightest chance.

I remain something of an agnostic towards Egypt and Camp David. In many respects, isolating Egypt—in a sense buying it off—with the American money that goes to Israel every year, may have made a settlement more difficult by enabling Israel to take a more rigid attitude than it would otherwise if Egypt were still with the rest of the Arab world.

The Arabs must get their act together sufficiently, otherwise there is a danger of losing the game. In this there is too much machismo and too little of the art of the possible. It is the duty of the West to advise and to exert pressure on the Arab world almost as much as it is to exert pressure on the Israelis to get a settlement.

My most important comment is about the United States of America. It is absolutely pivotal in this matter. It could control Israel. The only power that can control or influence Israel is the United States of America. But every time this matter comes up, the United States fails to deliver. It tries, but it fails to exercise sufficient pressure. The Israeli lobby is extremely strong in the United States of America, but here again on almost every issue in the world we see a period of marking time pending some sort of election in the United States. I shudder to think about it, but it seems that this is happening again now.

We are talking in terms of controlling or influencing Israel, with the United States giving enormous sums of money to Israel, quite apart from private contributions. The United States of America also arms Israel. We are talking about no less than two thirds of the United States foreign aid budget. Despite all that, the United States has failed to deliver on settlements and it has failed to deliver on the presence of Israeli troops in the Lebanon. Only a couple of weeks ago President Reagan, in an interview with Henry Brandon of the Sunday Times, said clearly that he did not see the settlement policy as illegal. He insisted that there was nothing illegal about it. That is an extraordinary comment from an American President who is meant to bring pressure to bear on one of the countries involved.

The United States is failing to exercise its power. It is failing to appreciate that it is not automatic that Israel, a western democratic country, is necessarily a stabilising factor in the middle east. Very rapidly it is becoming a destabilising factor.

For Europe and the United Kingdom, Israel is a creature of power in the form of its present Government. The Israeli Government take little or no notice of us, and we have to realise that. But if we were acting in conjunction with Europe, which increasingly we are, we would have an influence, not least with the United States of America, but also directly in 'a European context upon Israel. However, we are dealing with realistic and practical people, which is why I put the emphasis on the United States of America.

With the Arabs, Europe has a far more important role in preserving some of their faith in Western democracy and the Western way of life and possibly playing some sort of bridging role while the United States of America continues with its present unsuccessful policy.

If the West and the United States of America act now, we can get peace. It means telling a lot of people where to get off and it involves being a good deal tougher than we have been so far. The alternative is a constantly challenged Right-wing and increasingly bigoted Greater Israel. That is the longer term alternative or even the medium-term one. We shall see the Arab world and the PLO becoming more and more radical and an area which increasingly becomes one for the Soviets to influence. If only we had the power to act, it might be a little better. We do not have that power as an individual nation, but we can contribute. I must confess to a little pessimism, but I live in hope.