Palestine National Authority

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th December 1993.

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Photo of George Galloway George Galloway , Glasgow Hillhead 12:00 am, 15th December 1993

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what discussions he has had with the Chairman of the Palestine National Authority; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I held substantive talks with Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO, yesterday and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister saw him today. Yesterday, we discussed the implementation of the 13 September Israel/PLO agreement, to which we are giving both political and economic support.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway , Glasgow Hillhead

Will the Secretary of State accept my —and I believe the whole House's—congratulations on his and the Prime Minister's meetings yesterday and today with the Chairman of the Palestine National Authority and on at long last recognising the leadership of the Palestinian people? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if there is a failure, on 22 December, to implement the accord signed in Washington, as there was on 13 December, there is a grave risk of the area disintegrating into even further and greater chaos? Will the right hon. Gentleman convey that fear to the appropriate quarters at this critical juncture?

Might we be able to afford to the Palestinian people something that they greatly admire—the tradition of public service and an impartial civil service—in which we, at least until recently, gloried in this country? Will he make that expertise available to the Palestinians in the period ahead?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

Yes, it is important that the agreement should be honoured. Yes, we will give what help we can. For example, we have offered to train senior policemen in the new Palestinian force and Chairman Arafat accepted that offer yesterday.

Photo of Mr Spencer Batiste Mr Spencer Batiste , Elmet

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the only way in which a viable peace will be achieved in the long term is if the two sides reach an accommodation between themselves? Outsiders can be helpful and supportive, but it must be for the Palestinians and Israelis to reach an agreement with which they can both live.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

That is exactly right, and that is why it is such a breakthrough that they are discussing those matters face to face, in detail.

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

May I join in welcoming the visit of Chairman Arafat, whom I shall see later this afternoon with a Jewish delegation? Will the Secretary of State do everything in his power to help the parties to promote the peace process, first, by helping the Palestinians economically and, secondly, by recognising the deep and real sensitivities of the Israeli people for the security of their land?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for joining me and Chairman Arafat at lunch yesterday, thus lending fresh respectability to the occasion.

The hon. and learned Gentleman is perfectly right. There are two issues that Chairman Arafat explained to us as points of difficulty. One is the boundaries of the new Jericho—part of the agreement—and the second is who should control the border points on the Jordanian and Egyptian borders. Those are difficult matters; they are difficult for Israel and they are difficult for the Palestinians. We have some ideas on how they might be resolved. My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) was quite right; in the end, the two have to resolve the difficulties together. It is in the interests of both that they should do so.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant , Staffordshire Mid

Was my right hon. Friend able to raise with Mr. Arafat the question of the Israeli hostages who are being held by terrorist groups? I am thinking in particular of people such as Ron Arad.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

We raised that matter in various places and at various times when we thought that it would be helpful to do so. My hon. Friend is right: there is also the matter of the many Palestinians still held in Israel, which is one of the matters that the two sides are discussing. I hope to go to Israel, to the occupied territories and to Jordan during the Christmas recess. I will do so in the spirit that my hon. Friend suggested—trying to be helpful when we can on practical matters of technical assistance and judging for myself how things are going.

Dr. John Cunningham:

The Foreign Secretary's comments are welcome, as was the visit of Mr. Arafat to Britain yesterday and today. In his discussions, Chairman Arafat raised with the right hon. Gentleman, as he did with my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition and myself, the question of an international presence in the West Bank and the Gaza area—the occupied territories—to help the transition. Has the right hon. Gentleman formed a view of that proposal? Does he believe that it could make a positive contribution to the smooth transition?

The Palestinians have proposed that they should be given financial assistance to help the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction to engage British and European economists and industrial expertise to guide and advise them in the redevelopment and reconstruction of the occupied territories. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Government make a positive response, as the amounts of money involved are relatively modest?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

The right hon. Gentleman's presence at the lunch yesterday put its respectability beyond doubt.

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, Chairman Arafat has raised the possibility of international observers helping to deal with the frontier question—the problem of border controls, which I mentioned—alongside Israelis and Palestinians. No formal proposition has been made, because there is no agreement between the two sides on that point, but I certainly do not exclude our participating in such an effort, which would be on only a modest scale, if that proves to be necessary.

On the right hon. Gentleman's second point, we need to look at all the ideas so that we can help, with the things that we do well, the Palestinians in their new needs. I have mentioned police training, which is one thing, and economic advice would be another. The European Community, to which, of course, we contribute 16 per cent. of the 20 mecu voted for the first year to help the Palestinians, has been asked to keep the universities going. That is very important, and a large part of that European money to which we contribute will go for that purpose.