The seventh round of bilateral negotiations between Israeli and Arab delegations ended in Washington on the 20 of November. The negotiations tackled substance. All sides are, in our view, seriously engaged. Our objective has been, and remains, to support the process. We have had detailed meetings with all the parties and have played an active role, through teams at each of the bilateral rounds and in all the multilateral working groups.
As the incoming United States Administration will understandably require time in order to formulate their position and policy, does that not make it all the more incumbent on European Community nations to ensure the momentum of the talks, not least to safeguard the requirements and position of the Palestinians?
Certainly, we must try to ensure that the impetus of the talks is maintained even through the change in the United States Administration. The Israelis and Palestinians are now talking substance together and that is a huge advance. It is difficult for the Palestinians; they are being asked to discuss proposals for an interim self-governing authority. We hope that they will do that and that the discussions will succeed.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that it remains British policy to seek an end to the Arab boycott? Will he impart that information to Mr. Rabin when he makes his very welcome visit to this country? When will my right hon. Friend be able to report to the House about the response from the Arab states to British overtures on that point? If no progress has been made, will he be willing to raise the matter at European level?
We look forward to Mr. Rabin's visit which will be an important and welcome occasion. We are in action with our EC partners in Arab capitals to secure an end to the boycott. We think that that is justified, partly in response to the action of the Israeli Government in suspending settlements. That action has been only partial and it would be very helpful if they could completely suspend settlement activities, including those in eastern Jerusalem.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the President of the United States plays a vital role in brokering an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Will my right hon. Friend have urgent discussions with President-elect Clinton's transitional team to ensure that it is aware of the vital importance of obtaining a just settlement for the Palestinians without which no lasting peace is possible in the middle east?
Yes. We will increasingly be in touch with Governor Clinton's transitional team and we will certainly want to discuss the need to keep up the impetus in the peace process and continue what President Bush and Secretary Baker have done in trying to strike, when preparing the meetings, a reasonable balance between the requirements of Israel, the Palestinians and other Arabs.
May I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said about the Arab boycott? He is certainly right. Will he tell us what steps he has taken to achieve an end to the boycott and what results he has obtained?
Why should anyone in the middle east believe a word that the Foreign Secretary says when the guidelines regarding the Matrix Churchill affair were changed and when, in the House today, both the Foreign Secretary and his junior Minister refused to answer questions about whether they will sell arms to Albania? If he will not come clean on that and uses the weasel words, why should anyone in the middle east believe him?
Before the debate on the Arab boycott gets out of hand, will the Secretary of State remind the House that there is an absolute difference between international law which says that the settlements on the west bank are illegal, as are deportations, and relations between countries no matter where they are? The two things are not exactly the same.
I am sorry, but I do not follow the hon. Gentleman. Either I am particularly slow, or the hon. Gentleman is not as lucid as he usually is.
We believe that the settlements are illegal—we have said that—and that, quite apart from their legality or illegality, they have clearly proved over the years to be one of the main obstacles to the peace process.