HC Deb 20 October 1982 vol 29 cc352-5
5. Mr. David Watkins

asked the Secretary of state for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement of Her Majesty's Government's policy in relation to securing a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

7. Mr. Home Robertson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the situation in the Middle East.

13. Mr. Marlow

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the situation in the Middle East.

14. Mr. Sainsbury

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on the prospects for lasting peace between Israel and her neighbours.

Mr. Pym

The statement by the Foreign Ministers of the Ten on 20 September reaffirmed our commitment to the search for a comprehensive peace settlement based on the mutual acceptance of Palestinian and Israeli rights. Israel's invasion of Lebanon has demonstrated once again the urgent need for progress. We shall continue to work closely with all the parties concerned towards that end. I have recently held discussions on these matters in Damascus and Cairo, and shall be visiting Amman in November. I also met Mr. Shamir in New York in late September. I believe that President Reagan's proposals and the declaration of the Arab summit at Fez together represent a very important opportunity to make progress towards peace.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call first the four hon. Members whose questions are being answered.

Mr. Watkins

As the denial of self-determination to the Palestinian people is the root cause of the conflict in the Middle East, do the Government accept that the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which is manifestly the representative body of the Palestinian nation, ought to be included among the bodies to which the Secretary of State proposes to speak? Will he especially stress to the American Administration the importance of self-determination and the involvement of the PLO in negotiations?

Mr. Pym

We have given great emphasis to the principle of self-determination. We have done so in our own right and in concert with our European allies in the Venice declaration of 1980, to which we still adhere. It is true that the Reagan plan does not include that word, but as an initiative it is infinitely closer to our position than anything that the American Administration have done before. From that point of view, we ragard it as a significant advance.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have always taken the view that the PLO must recognise the rights of Israel and abandon terrorism before we can change our attitude towards it. However, again in conjuction with our European allies, we have said that the PLO must be associated with the negotiations and, obviously, with the agreement. We adhere to that.

I apologise, Mr. Speaker, for the length of my answer. Perhaps I may add that the meeting between Mr. Yasser Arafat and King Hussein was, on the whole, hopeful at the beginning of what will be a long process.

Mr. Home Robertson

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the dreadful events in Lebanon this summer make it clearer than ever that a sovereign State must be established where Palestinian Arabs can be safe from persecution? As he is clearly prepared to discuss this question with practically everyone else, will he now say that he is prepared to meet the acknowledged representatives of the Palestinian people to discuss the way in which Britain and Europe can help to set up a Palestinian State?

Mr. Pym

Our meetings with the PLO continue at official level. It may be that in due course that will be altered. I have no objection to that in principle on the conditions that I have stated. A Palestinian State is one possible way of fulfilling the right of the Palestinians to self-determination, but there are other ways of doing so. In the end it is for the Palestinians to decide. A Palestinian State is an option, and that is where it remains as far as I am concerned.

Mr. Marlow

When is the commission from the Arab summit at Fez likely to visit the United Kingdom? Who will be members of that commission and who will they meet? As regards a meeting between Ministers and PLO representatives, does my right hon. Friend agree that the rejection of terrorism by the Palestinians, which many people would support, should no longer be a condition precedent, given the fact that the Israeli Government have exhibited far greater tendencies towards terrorism, particularly the massacre at Sabra and Shatila, where, while 2,000 people were being killed, they were launching star shells and allowing people to carry on with that massacre?

Mr. Pym

It is for the Arab League to decide, but I understand that the commission will consist of representatives from Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Most of them are likely to come to London after they have visited the United States. I expect that to be in early November.

I note my hon. Friend's second point. I should like to see terrorism and war abandoned on both sides. That is perfectly fair. It may be that the PLO is moving in that direction—there are some signs of it—but terrorism is a totally unsatisfactory way of trying to settle this dispute. We are bending our efforts in support of the Reagan initiative and doing all that we can to achieve a peaceful solution to this extremely complex and long-standing controversy.

Mr. Sainsbury

I welcome my right hon. Friend's support for the Reagan initiative. Does he accept that the continuing refusal of a number of Arab countries clearly and unequivocally to recognise the right of Israel to exist is a major obstacle to the negotiations between the interested countries, which are essential if we are to achieve a lasting peace? In that connection, will he confirm that the Government would totally condemn any move to expel Israel from the United Nations and would not participate in that organisation if the principle of universality ceased to apply?

Mr. Pym

There is no doubt whatever that Israel must, and does, have the right to exist. The Government have always supported that position. It is one of the fundamental foundations of a peace-making process and it is fully recognised in the Reagan initiative.

Secondly, there is no question of the Government doing anything other than supporting Israel's continuing membership of the United Nations. We would be totally opposed to any attempt to try to remove Israel from that body.

Dr. Owen

Wilt the Foreign Secretary explain to the House why, as yet, it appears that the British Government have never offered any peacekeeping units for the Lebanon? Are we prepared to offer peacekeeping units either to a multilateral force or to a United Nations force? Does he believe that it will be necessary to have a United Nations force in southern Lebanon?

When the Foreign Secretary mentions a Palestinian State, will he at least add the qualification that has always previously been added, that it would have to be substantially demilitarised?

Mr. Pym

We would want any State that existed to be demilitarised. We would want the whole area, and Israel to be demilitarised, for that matter. Obviously, the lower the level of force, the better.

The possibility of the United Kingdom contributing to a peacekeeping force has not yet arisen, nor has it been suggested. The composition and size of the force have been under active consideration in a number of forums, including the United Nations. The suggestion that we might contribute has not yet arisen.

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, yesterday the UNIFTL mandate was extended for a further three months. We are taking part in a multilateral force at the other end of the theatre, in Sinai. The reason why there is a multilateral rather that a United Nations force in Lebanon is that the former is what the Lebanon Government requested.

Mr. Latham

In supporting the Reagan plan, as my right hon. Friend does and as I do, will he confirm that it explicitly rules out an independent Palestinian State on the West Bank? When he met the President of Syria, did he stress the need for the withdrawal of Syrian armed forces from Lebanon as soon as possible?

Mr. Pym

I do not think that the Reagan plan rules out that independent State, although President Reagan has made public comments which could bear that interpretation. I think it is a matter of options.

When I was in Damascus, I discussed withdrawal, and the Syrian attitude was made clear to me. It was that, on the basis of the withdrawal of Israeli forces, the Syrian forces would certainly withdraw. Our position has been that all foreign forces should be withdrawn. Out of the mess that has been created in that part of the world we want to see created a new, independent and vigorous Lebanon, and one condition for that is that all foreign forces should be removed.

Mr. Moyle

Is the Secretary of State aware that a minute or two ago he called for the demilitarisation of Israel? Will he explain to the House how that could be achieved?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the chief obstacles to peace in the Middle East is the rigid attitude adopted by the Begin Government? Will he note that the Israeli Labour Party, the principal Opposition party in Israel, is adopting a more flexible attitude? Should not British policy be aimed at encouraging that attitude, particularly as it is similar to the American approach, of which he has approved, and also is not totally out of touch with King Hussein's suggestions for peace?

Mr. Pym

In answer to the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I remind him that I was responding to a question from the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) concerning the demilitarised nature of an independent Palestine State, if such were to be created. I responded positively to that question and intended to convey to the House that the less militarisation there was there the better it would be.

The right hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle) is right in saying that the initial reaction of the Israeli Government to the Reagan plan was disappointing. That remains their position and it remains disappointing, but there are other views. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Opposition in Israel. There is also a major public debate taking place in Israel at present. We know that there is great anxiety there about the events of recent months. That anxiety exists not only among Israelis but among Jewish communities elsewhere. We must hope that, as a result of the debate, different counsels will prevail and that that will be a different outcome.

The position in the Middle East is extremely complex and tense in several dimensions. The best opportunity of founding a peace process rests upon the Reagan initiative. Every country has differences and reservations about it—it is different even from our own position, as emerged from the original question by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins)—but the Reagan initiative is by far the best basis on which to start. That is why we are giving it our support and hope that it will soon make progress.