Middle East

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:14 pm on 15th April 1983.

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Photo of Mr Dennis Walters Mr Dennis Walters , Westbury 2:14 pm, 15th April 1983

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) on his motion. The speech of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) was much more moderate than usual and I should like to associate myself with what he said about my old friend Issam Sartawi, who was a courageous and peace-loving man.

There have been many debates on the middle east since 1967. I have consistently emphasised one feature —to achieve a durable peace, the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people must be recognised and their claim to self-determination upheld. Britain recently demonstrated its strong feelings about self-determination by defeating the Argentine aggression in the Falklands. As the former mandatory power in Palestine we, of all people, have a moral responsibility to the Palestinian people which remains lamentably unfulfilled.

Of course, Israel has a right to security but no one will seriously suggest that the most powerful military state in the middle east is now really worried about its security or that its expansionist policies are defensive. The real issue today continues to be how to progress towards Palestinian self-determination and to contain Israeli territorial ambitions.

Although aggression and expansion have not brought Israel any nearer to a lasting peace—a fact that is fully recognised by the Israeli peace movement—the present Israeli leadership, which is both racialist and recklessly expansionist, is convinced that aggression pays. It is not seriously interested in negotiations which involve a withdrawal from occupied territories. It is concerned with how to consolidate its gains and where and when to plan further advances. Such circumstances cannot be allowed to continue because they are unjust and endanger peace not only in the middle east but in the world.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster said, only the United States can bring about a peace settlement because, as Israel's arms supplier and financial backer, it alone can apply the necessary pressure on Israel. However, the United States cannot do that alone. Britain and Europe have an important part to play. Our credibility and influence in the Arab world is much greater than that of the United States. Moreover, the Soviet Union cannot be permanently excluded from the process of finding a peaceful settlement. Such attempts at exclusion will not, in the long term, help the West, as it will make the prospects of a lasting and stable peace much more difficult.

Although I believe that safeguarding the middle east from Soviet encroachment should remain a major objective of Western foreign policy, I do not believe that, in the long term, that aim is best served by trying to exclude the Soviet Union from the peace-making process. No settlement can be reached, let alone stick, if it does not command at least the acquiescence of the Soviet Union. At the moment, for example, the Soviet Union is exploiting Syria's understandable fears of Israel's military preponderance, especially in the air, and her resentment that the Syrian territory of the Golan, which is now under Israeli occupation, was not specifically included in the Reagan proposals.

Those Syrian anxieties must be allayed if progress is to be made. Moreover, King Hussein, who is a wise and courageous ruler, cannot be left to carry the entire burden of peace making. If the West wants the PLO under Mr. Arafat to be more explicit and to continue to be moderate, it must encourage rather than rebuff it.

The Reagan proposals remain, in present circumstances —circumstances that should never have been allowed to occur—the only realistic, although inadequate, means of making a start towards peace and reversing the trend towards disaster. But if they are to be revived with any hope of success, the United States must give clear and tangible evidence that it intends to pursue peace with real determination and some firmness of purpose.