Middle East

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd March 1988.

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Photo of Mr Robert Adley Mr Robert Adley , Christchurch 12:00 am, 2nd March 1988

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

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

We welcome recent efforts to give new impetus to the search for a negotiated settlement of the Arab-Israel conflict. We and our European partners support strongly an international conference as the suitable framework for negotiations between the parties directly concerned.

Photo of Mr Robert Adley Mr Robert Adley , Christchurch

I thank my hon. and learned Friend and congratulate him on his active participation in the process during the past few weeks. Has he had a chance to look at the Hansard extract that I sent to him dated 23 July 1946 entitled "Terrorist Outrage, Jerusalem" and the statement made by the then Prime Minister, Mr. Attlee? Does he agree that as Messrs. Shamir and Sharon were involved in those terrorist activities it is utter hypocrisy for them to condemn the PLO as a terrorist organisation? On that basis, does he agree that if Mr. Shultz is to play any useful role it is essential that the United States and our Government include the PLO in any discussions if they are to be meaningful?

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

I appreciate my hon. Friend's sincere interest in this matter. The tragic events of the King David hotel are matters for historians, and our concern has to be with the present. Plainly, the PLO is accepted widely within the occupied territories as the representative of the Palestinian people. We have never accepted it as the sole representative of those people, and there has been an inhibition on the part of the Americans and the British Government at Cabinet level to receive the PLO because of the need for it to make a clean break with terrorist activities of the past. I hope that the PLO will do that, so that it can play a proper role in the unfolding peace process, which, as I said earlier, we very much welcome.

Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber

Does the Minister accept that the unfolding peace process, as he put it, has been unfolding for a terribly long time without any real progress? We warmly welcome his support for an international conference, but would he go as far as to say that there will be no progress until Mr. Shultz makes proposals which go considerably beyond those that he has made so far?

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his consistent support for a bipartisan approach to the matter. I welcome that. Mr. Shultz is properly taking all possible pains to consult as widely as he can among the Governments in the region. He is trying to break down the old objections to peace, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, in order to see whether some new development is possible. Our role is to assist him in that. Of course, we assist him by talking frankly to him about difficulties and the need for the United States to tackle some of those difficulties. I think the hon. Gentleman will find that that is exactly what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did in her talks with Mr. Shultz yesterday.

Photo of Mr Dennis Walters Mr Dennis Walters , Westbury

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that in 1973 the United Nations Commission on Human Rights described Israeli conduct on the West Bank as an affront to humanity and tantamount to war crimes"? The only thing that has changed there is the presence of the television cameras. In the circumstances, should not the Palestinians, after all these years of injustice, at least have the right to choose their own representatives?

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

Our condemnation of many of the practices in the occupied territories by the Israeli defence force is well known. Sadly, those problems appear to be growing rather than diminishing. I believe that they will fundamentally undermine the reputation of the Government of Israel unless something is done about them. I hope very much that out of this will come the progress that my hon. Friend seeks.

We wish to see the Palestinians properly represented at any conference. Of course that is primarily a matter for the Arab side. The idea that has been floated—that there should be an international conference — of a joint Palestinian and Jordanian delegation would appear to be the right way forward.

Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross , Dundee West

The Minister must know that the Shultz mission will fail because Shultz is unable to talk to the Palestine Liberation Organisation. If there is to be a peace settlement in the middle east, the Minister, Shultz and the Americans must drop this reluctance to talk to a main player. Shultz can talk to the Israelis, but he must talk to the other side, the PLO. The best thing that the Minister and the British Government can do is to urge the Americans to drop their refusal to accept that the Palestine Liberation Organisation is the representative of the Palestinians.

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

I know the hon. Gentleman's serious concern for this issue. I urge him, as I have done in the past, to make the PLO aware of the central inhibition of the Americans in talking to the PLO and of the British Government at Cabinet level in receiving the PLO because of the need for it to make a break with the past.

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

Of course the Americans would like to talk to the Palestinians, just as a number of us have been able to do and just as I was able to do when I visited the occupied territories during a visit from which the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) says I am retreating. There is no question of retreating from that or anything else.

It is important that the Palestinians should be able to put their case direct. That will best come about when the PLO has legitimised itself in a form that enables it to repudiate the past, which, as the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) knows, was disfigured by terrorist actions that caused grave difficulty and resentment in Europe. That is the way forward that we all want to see.

Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that a necessary condition of peace in the middle east is that Israel's Arab neighbours must accept Israel's right to exist and its right to secure borders? Does he agree that it is an international scandal that, 40 years after the foundation of the state of Israel, only one Arab country has done that? Does he regard it as significant that those Arabs who are willing to bankroll the PLO have also been seen to be supporters of the IRA?

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

That last observation is a bit strong and I do not think it is in accordance with the facts. Nor do I think that the football supporter approach to this problem—taking a position on one side rather than striking a balance — is at all helpful in resolving this difficult matter. A sensible policy for the peace process, which I believe we have, is based, first, on the right of the Palestinians to self-determination and, secondly, and every bit as important, on the right of all states in the region—including, of course, Israel—to exist behind secure boundaries. I am sure that no progress is possible until all states in the region appreciate that.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

Is the Minister aware that, from my own talks with the PLO and the Governments of Iraq, Egypt and Jordan, it is perfectly clear to me that there is no problem about their taking part in an international conference under the auspices of the five permanent members of the United Nations, which could lead to a settlement that would provide security for Israel as well as self-determination for the Palestinians? Is he also aware that the principal, and so far immovable, obstacle to the holding of such a conference is Mr. Shamir, the Prime Minister of Israel? Is he further aware that, instead of trailing new and circuitous solutions to the problem, Mr. Shultz and the United States Administration should tell Mr. Shamir, in no uncertain terms, to sit down at a conference and negotiate with the Arab countries?

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

The right hon. Gentleman's progress around the middle east has been most welcome to me, as it has allowed a great deal of bipartisan agreement between the two Front Benches. I certainly agree with him about the attitude of the Arab world towards an international conference. It is our view just as much as his—and I believe that it has all the more authority because it appears to be a view that commands majority support in Parliament—that an international conference is the best way forward. There is no doubt that one section of the Israeli Government has consistently rejected that, and I hope very much that, as part of the tireless work that Mr. Shultz is doing, he will be able to tackle that issue.