The issues dividing Israel and the Arabs are complex and will inevitably take much time and effort to resolve. There has neverthelss been slow but steady progress towards a middle east peace settlement since the Madrid conference last October. I look forward to a further round of bilateral negotiations between Israel and her Arab neighbours soon. There is now a chance to secure a comprehensive settlement based on security for Israel, justice for the Palestinians and peace for all who live in the region. I urge both sides to seize it.
After the early promise of Madrid, the peace talks have been disappointingly slow. To assist progress, will my hon. Friend and the EC consider telling Mr. Shamir that they will take economic action unless Israel stops its illegal settlement programme in the occupied territories and abides by the Geneva convention, which is being systematically broken?
It was always inevitable that the talks would be slow. The issues involved are extraordinarily difficult and their resolution is complicated. I agree that the settlement policy that is being pursued by Israel is a serious obstacle to the conclusion of a peace settlement. I entirely agree that the Geneva convention—the fourth convention—applies to the occupied territories. We shall impress both those things on Mr. Shamir.
Is the Minister aware that I returned this morning from a short visit to four countries in the middle east? Does he accept that the recent Moscow round of talks has two universal consequences? The first is the conclusion that it does not do any good for any delegation to stay away from any part of the process and that all parties should hang in there and keep the discussions going with as much momentum as possible. Secondly, although it is understandable that the external leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation may be excluded at the moment, it is not understandable that the Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem should be excluded from the process.
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is undesirable for any delegation to stay away. I very much regret that both the Syrians and the Lebanese stayed away from the multilaterals and that, although present, the Palestinians did not join in in a positive way. On the question of representation within the Palestinian delegation from the diaspora, which is the point that the right hon. Gentleman is addressing—
From east Jerusalem, so be it.
The agreement on Palestinian representation was put together carefully before the Madrid talks. I should be reluctant to see the balance changed because that may destabilise the talks. There is greater scope for a change in the context of the multilaterals than in the context of the bilaterals. Clearly, the views of Palestinians with east Jerusalem must be represented some way or another.
Following the question by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), is there not essentially a double standard when one delegation can bring whomsoever it likes to the talks, whether those people were born in the Soviet Union or the United States, and another delegation is told whom it can and whom it cannot bring? How does my hon. and learned Friend expect Palestinians to feel that they will get a fair crack of the whip while they are subjected to those double standards?
I understand the thinking behind my hon. Friend's point. In the abstract it has a great deal of force. That said, it is most important to get the parties to start the process of negotiation. For that purpose one must sometimes accept a composition of a team or delegation that in abstract terms is different from that which one would wish. The real objective is to get the talks started.
As part of the Minister's continued opposition to settlements, can he say how the British Government, as a member of the troika, will discharge their responsibilities under the recent protocol signed with Israel and the European Economic Community to ensure that none of the money will go to any Israeli projects with any connection with settlements on the west bank or Gaza?
We shall have to consider the modalities when the time arises. I re-emphasise that the policy of settlements in the occupied territories is a serious obstacle to a peace settlement. I hope that the Israelis will desist. Indeed, if they were to announce their decision to desist, it would be an important confidence-building measure that could lead to others—for example, the suspension of the Arab boycott.
Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the strong opinion of all parties within Israel that the peace process is irreversible, that there is a desire to compromise and that certain comments from certain Members of this House are not helpful?
My hon. Friend brings a great deal of expertise to bear on this issue. I know that he paid a useful and constructive visit recently. I agree with him about the irreversibility of the peace process. That is correct.
The Minister has said that the settlements policy pursued by the Israeli Government is a major obstacle to progress in the peace talks. Will he therefore take this opportunity of welcoming the positive statement recently made by Mr. Shimon Peres, the leader of the Israeli Labour party, that if elected in June he would put a freeze on the settlements in the occupied territories.
I certainly welcome any statement made by any Israeli politician to the effect that if in government he would put a freeze on the settlement policy. I would hope that that would be the policy of Mr. Shamir's Government should they be re-elected in June.