Israel

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th April 1998.

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Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles Conservative, Brentwood and Ongar 12:00 am, 7th April 1998

If he will make a statement on current relations between the UK and Israel. [36540]

Photo of Mr Derek Fatchett Mr Derek Fatchett Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

We enjoy a full range of contacts with Israel. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is looking forward to his visit to Israel later this month as part of a tour of the middle east.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles Conservative, Brentwood and Ongar

Does the Minister agree that the United Kingdom remains a firm friend of Israel, and that one of the duties of a friend is sometimes to give unpalatable advice? On reflection, does he feel that the conduct of his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary — in terms of the mixture, or balance, of those whom he met, and in terms of the choice of location and the language used—precluded Britain from taking such a position of influence, because it was undiplomatic? What advice will the Minister offer the Prime Minister to repair the damage that the Foreign Secretary did to Israeli-British relations?

Photo of Mr Derek Fatchett Mr Derek Fatchett Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's visit was a success, and I have every confidence that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's visit to Israel will be a similar success.

Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross Labour, Dundee West

Through my hon. Friend, let me congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on his recent visit to the middle east. It is clear from the reports from both Israel and Arab countries that the visit was an unqualified success.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the one thing that we need to know about foreign policy in the middle east is that those who have dealings with the parties there must be honest, straightforward and truthful? Is he, like me, saddened by the fact that Opposition Back Benchers seem to have given up on the bilateral agreement that we reached across the Floor of the House, and that they, more than anyone else, are likely to undermine the influence of Britain and the European Union in the middle east, where it is essential?

Photo of Mr Derek Fatchett Mr Derek Fatchett Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I am delighted to say that we are not responsible for the behaviour of Opposition Back Benchers. That task would be too great for even this Government.

My hon. Friend is right. We have in the European Union a clear statement of principles. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary always acted in accordance with those principles: that is why his conduct and his visit to the middle east were endorsed by European Union Foreign Ministers. We have been able to show that Europe can make a significant contribution to the peace process.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Conservative, New Forest East

Does the Minister recognise the incredulity with which members of my party have observed the Foreign Secretary patting himself on the back for the success of his visit, with typically lickspittle Liberal Democrat support? Does he not recall that his visit was summed up by a leader in The Times in two words—"diplomatic disaster"? Does he not realise that members of all parties in the House, whatever they may say publicly, are secretly relieved—given the contribution that the Foreign Secretary made to that peace process—that he is not involved in the current attempted peace process in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Mr Derek Fatchett Mr Derek Fatchett Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I think that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will accept that that question was unworthy even of his own normal standards.

Throughout the lifetime of this Government, we have said that we have a keen commitment to the peace process, and we will continue that commitment. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman that the only way in which to make progress in the middle east is to ensure that we push the peace process forward. That is what we want to do. Rather than making cheap, snide comments from the Back Benches—or, indeed, from the Front Bench—we want to get on with the real agenda. We are engaged in that, and will continue to be engaged in it.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

I have supported the state of Israel since its establishment 50 years ago, and have defended its right to combat aggression and terror like any other state, but is my hon. Friend aware that many of us are deeply disappointed at the actions of the current Israeli Government? Is not it absolutely clear that home truths should be told to the Israelis, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has done, and that there can be no justice in the middle east until the Palestinian people have a state of their own, alongside the Jewish state?

Photo of Mr Derek Fatchett Mr Derek Fatchett Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My hon. Friend is right to say that there can be no peace in the middle east until there is justice and security for Israelis and Palestinians, and that is the objective to which my right hon. Friend and the Government are working.