Middle East Peace Process

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 1:46 pm on 15th January 1997.

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Photo of Mr Robert Hicks Mr Robert Hicks , South East Cornwall 1:46 pm, 15th January 1997

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what initiatives the United Kingdom Government propose to take to promote the middle east peace process; and if he will make a statement. [9250]

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer that I gave earlier.

Photo of Mr Robert Hicks Mr Robert Hicks , South East Cornwall

Although I welcome the Hebron agreement, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it would still be sensible to defer ratification of the Euro-Mediterranean association agreement between the European Union and Israel until all the objectives of the Oslo accords timetable have been met?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

No, I do not agree. I believe that the Hebron agreement that has been reached shows the support of Israelis and Palestinians for taking forward the peace process. I can therefore see no justification for seeking to delay ratification of the EU-Israel agreement; I believe it should be implemented as soon as possible.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

Is not the lesson of the recent agreement between President Arafat and Mr. Netanyahu that even the most reactionary and racist forces in Israel are open, and do respond, to international pressures? Should not we in that case use those more frequently?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

The hon. Gentleman should take into account the fact that Israel is a healthy, vibrant democracy. If the elections in Israel resulted in a Government who have proved more difficult with regard to the negotiations, that is a challenge for the middle east and the international community. But we should never disregard the fact that Israel's are an elected Government.

Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South

Will my right hon. and learned Friend put pressure on the Government of Syria to show some interest in peace in the middle east, and on the captors of Ron Arad to release him after eight years of captivity?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

We have the greatest sympathy with my hon. Friend's points about Mr. Arad. I have raised that question on a number of visits and in our contacts with political leaders in the middle east. It is still not certain whether he is alive, but we shall continue to devote our efforts to assisting those who are trying to establish his fate; and, if he is still alive, to having him speedily released and returned to his family.