As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has already said, the eighth round of bilateral negotiations ended in Washington on 16 December. Slow progress continues, and the next round is expected to take place in February. Recent events, including the killing of Sergeant-Major Toledano and the deportation of 415 Palestinians from the occupied territories, underline the fact that the peace process is the only way to resolve the problems of the region.
As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said, the election of Mr. Rabin opens the prospect of really promising negotiations such as we have not seen previously. Prime Minister Rabin's statement on the question of the Golan Heights is important and much to be welcomed. I should like to see the Government of Syria respond by recognising the need for a permanent peace agreement with the state of Israel.
Does the Minister accept that the middle east peace talks will always be vulnerable when the Israeli Government over-react, as they have on this occasion by deporting 415 Palestinians? The peace talks will continue to be vulnerable unless and until the Israeli Government believe that serious international action will be taken against them when they violate international law. The Israeli Government have clearly broken international law and 415 Palestinians are somewhere between Lebanon and Israel, yet Israel is still allowed to participate in international organisations, there is still bilateral trade between ourselves and Israel, and there is still contact between Israel and the EC. Only when Israel believes that serious retaliation will be taken will the middle east peace talks get on stream and be protected.
The British Government have made their position plain on the deportation of the 415 Palestinians. Clearly, it was a serious breach of the fourth Geneva convention and is a serious infringement of human rights. As the hon. Gentleman and the rest of the House know, we have condemned it in many ways. We now need to find ways to persuade, induce and cause the Israeli Government to reverse the effect of their decision—a decision which we greatly deplore.
We must consider how most effectively we can persuade the Israelis to reverse the effect of their decision—a decision which we deeply deplore.
Does not the Minister understand the dynamics that lie behind the process that has led hundreds of thousands of Palestinians under occupation and in exile to look towards the Islamic extremists of Hamas? Do the Government understand that the failure of the secular nationalist leadership of the Palestinian people to obtain any significant concession has led to that radicalisation and Islamicisation of the whole national consciousness in Palestine? Does the Minister realise that, for example, the British Government's refusal to meet leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organisation when they were recently in London strengthens the arm of the extremists in that regard? The alacrity with which they are preparing to pulverise the Iraqis, while allowing the Bosnian Muslims to be massacred in Yugoslavia, does not help either.
The hon. Gentleman is simply not correct to suggest that the Israeli Government have made no movement since the election of Prime Minister Rabin. The change that has taken place with regard to the settlement policy, for instance, is an important step forward, although it may not go far enough. We must push forward on the basis of resolutions 242 and 338, and recognise that the Palestinian people have a right to self determination and to land to make a reality of that self determination. That is our policy and we shall keep with it.
There are a number of threats to peace in the middle east and Saddam Hussein is one of the most prominent. However, it is also important that we do what we can to promote an agreement between the state of Israel, the peoples of the occupied territories and the Arab states.
Dr. John Cunningham:
Does the Minister recognise that we deplore the Israeli Government's actions, which are in clear breach of international law and the fourth Geneva convention? I regret having to say that, as I warmly welcomed the election of a new Labour Government in Israel. Is it not clear that that breach of international law has given Hamas a huge propaganda victory?
Is it not also clear that the actions of the Israeli Government have undermined the legitimate leadership of the Palestinian people in Israel, too? Do not both those things militate against a successful outcome to the continuing peace initiative which we strongly support? Will Her Majesty's Government make it clear to the Israeli ambassador, as I did yesterday, that his Government should be obliged, in line with the decisions of the United Nations and the condemnation internationally, to rethink this decision and to treat these people using the proper legal procedures to which they are entitled?
I think that I agree with almost everything that the hon. Gentleman has just said, and I welcome his statement. Yes, the action by the Israeli Government is deeply to be deplored, it is illegal and it is contrary to the fourth Geneva convention. Yes, too, it is a recruiting sergeant for people in the occupied territories to join Hamas. It makes martyrs of them. It is a terrible thing to have done. Yes, I entirely agree that it undermines the peace process. What we must all seriously hope is that it does not destroy the peace process and, in so far as any of us has influence in this matter, we must try to keep the peace process alive.
I think that I have said all I can usefully say on this matter. There has been a serious breach of international law by Israel. That breach of international law has been roundly condemned by, for example, the United Nations and by the British Government. What we now need to do is, first, to get the Government of Israel to reverse the effect of their policy, and secondly, to exercise our best efforts to keep the peace process alive.