§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Lord Chelwood rose to call attention to the case for the European Community to make more effort to narrow the gap in the Arab-Israeli dispute; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is three years, almost to the precise day, since I was last lucky in the ballot and we debated this very subject. Since then we have to admit that little progress, if any, has been made towards peace in the Arab-Israel dispute. Rather, I fear, the reverse.
§ The West Bank and Gaza settlements have been added to and consolidated. Lebanon has been invaded, with the death of over 15,000 people, at least half of them women and children, and with presumably double that number wounded. How little resemblance there is today to the Palestine of 1947, when we washed our hands of the mandate and America engineered partition! So much territory has been occupied or annexed by Israel as a result of the 1948 and 1967 wars; and there are still—and this is an awful figure—six out of ten Palestinians (of whom there are over four million altogether) who are refugees or in exile.
It was ten years before the 1967 war that President Eisenhower asked a very pertinent question. He asked:
Should a nation which attacks and occupies foreign territory in the face of United Nations' disapproval be allowed to impose the conditions of its withdrawal? If so,
I fear we will have turned back the clock of international order".
That was a very good question.
§ I am well aware, as we all are, of the size and difficulty of this problem. It is a daunting one. There are no easy answers at all. But meanwhile the situation is both hardening, I suggest, and fermenting. The only way that it will ever be solved is step by step, and not in one fell swoop. There must be a great danger in further drift. The parties, as they are so often called, will not come together on their own. I simply do not believe that. There have to be external catalysts. I propose to speak about the situation today and in the immediate future, with only an occasional backwards glance where it seems to be relevant.
§ First, I must mention, of course, the European Community's Venice Declaration of five years ago. No praise can be too high for the work that my noble friend Lord Carrington did to get the nine countries together to make this declaration. The work was brilliantly done. I think we can all congratulate him on that. Yes, the Nine said, they wished "to promote the implementation of the two principles universally accepted by the international community". That is, of course, Israeli security and Palestinian self-determination. Yes, they declared their readiness to participate in a "comprehensive settlement" under "binding international guarantees". Yes, they said they would determine the form of their next initiative. And since then, my Lords? There has been plenty of 325 rhetoric but little else. Therefore, the Community's credibility in the eyes of many people is much less than it should be in this context.
§ We were warned of the danger, I think by my noble friend Lord Soames, when he was a commissioner, that the Community might become a political pygmy—the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, will remember this—and be an economic giant. It did not look like going that way, but it is looking a bit like it now, I am sorry to say.
§ Certainly only America can turn the key, but we can oil the lock. The Community has a deeply vested interest in solving the Arab-Israeli dispute, the tap-root cause of which is surely the agony of the Palestinian people. Moral obligations apart—how one can put them apart I do not know—the Community has crucial political and economic interests in the Middle East which are being put at growing risk through inaction. We think, of course, of the free flow of Gulf oil, among other things, which matters so much to Europe and really not a bit to the United States.
§ Britain alone enjoyed a £3 billion trade surplus with the Arab countries last year, with our exports close to £5 billion. Exports like that mean a lot of jobs. I do not know the Community figures, but I am sure that they are very impressive. So, far from giving America a lead, as I see it there has been some positive backsliding from the principles of the Venice Declaration.
§ Briefly, I should like to give five examples to my noble friend who is to reply. The European Community froze a 40 million dollar aid package in 1982 after Israel invaded Lebanon and sought 10 assurances from Israel, none of which was given. I was told this in reply to a parliamentary Question. But this loan was released one year later because Israel and Lebanon signed a peace agreement which proved worthless not within hours but within days. Secondly, Israel's invasion led to the Community saying that it would ban the export of military equipment to that country and review its policy after Israel's withdrawal. But when I asked a Written Question in the House recently about whether the retention of a buffer zone by Israel occupied by the South Lebanese Army, as it is called, would amount to withdrawal—we should not forget that the SLA is under Israeli command—the question was evaded. The answer was definitely evasive and I press my noble friend to be kind enough to tell me whether the retention of such a zone will mean that Israel has withdrawn from Lebanon.
§ Thirdly, I am sorry sometimes that there is so much talk on our part about freezing the West Bank settlements. They will have to be frozen if there is to be a withdrawal and they are illegal. The Venice Declaration talks about them being withdrawn. Now we are talking about them being frozen, but not about them being withdrawn. I am sure there is no backsliding in that respect but I should like confirmation of it.
§ Next, the Community will have to sign a trade agreement and renew it with Israel after enlargement. Israel depends heavily on exports to Europe and I hope she will not automatically get everything she wants without a very careful look indeed at the way in which Israel is defying mandatory Security Council resolutions at a time when Europe is discriminating 326 against exports from the occupied part of Palestine, on the West Bank, produced by the Palestinians. I should like a comment on that. I do not see why it should be absolutely automatic that all these advantages should flow to Israel without looking carefully al it. I remember well when there was agreement with Turkey that it was put into reverse for good reasons which were understandable at the time.
§ Finally, was it not really a mistake for the Government not to vote for the Security Council resolution on 5th March which outspokenly condemned Israel's treatment of the civilian population in Southern Lebanon? The reason given for not doing so was not at all convincing, and we found ourselves in a somewhat equivocal position. I suggest that it is high time that the Community sought to narrow the gap between Israel and her Arab neighbours and thus give a lead to America which I think would be privately welcomed at the highest levels in Washington as well as by the governments of all the moderate Arab countries. If political co-operation is in the doldrums in the Community, as I fear, why cannot Britain and France as permanent members of the Security Council give a more positive lead?
§ I turn now briefly to the tragic situation in Lebanon: torn to shreds by internal dissent, deliberately stoked up by Syria and Israel to suit their own expansionist purposes. This highlights another serious problem to which the Community seems also to have an equivocal attitude. I am thinking about UNIFIL's role. Its mandate was defined in Security Council Resolution 426 which was proposed by the United Kingdom. It requires that force to confirm the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from Lebanese territory and then to control all movements in its area of operations fully to restore Lebanese sovereignty. The force is required to assist the Lebanese Government to establish its authority in the south in peace and security. The Lebanese Government wish for this and has said so recently; but Israel said that they would be better off without UNIFIL. It was Mr. Rabin who said that. Yet at the same time Israel insists on a buffer zone and threatens a "scorched earth" policy (Mr. Rabin's words again) to support their mercenary force, the SLA, if they are in the difficulties which they are bound to be in.
§ I think, and I hope noble Lords agree with me, that UNIFIL is in a humiliating, intolerable and very dangerous position. I ask my noble friend when she comes to reply to take the lead with our European Community partners to ensure either that UNIFIL, can carry out its very important mandate, which would provide Israel and Lebanon with the security to which they are fully entitled and which they deserve, or to use their influence to ensure that that force is not kept in this very difficult situation. There are good precedents for United Nations peace-keeping in the Middle East in the Golan Heights and in Sinai. We are apt to forget what a good job is being done in those two areas and I hope those precedents can be followed.
§ The path to peace is strewn with failed plans and hopes unfulfilled. I shall not go through all of them, but today much the most significant move of all has come from King Hussein with Yassir Arafat which, when read in conjunction with the Fez agreement, offers some hope for the future. This initiative of the 327 king is still on the table—only just, though—proposing a Jordanian-Palestinian federation, not all that different from the 1982 Reagan plan for Palestinian self-government in association with Jordan. There are not great differences between them. It is true that both these plans were scornfully rejected by Israel but I fear that was to be expected in the circumstances.
§ How courageous and statesmanlike King Hussein and the Crown Prince have been. I admire them enormously and I think we all do. Now that President Mubarak backs their initiative it must be the right moment for the Reagan plan to be re-activated in a revised form. That was promised in 1983 when we were told by the State Department that it had been put on the "front burner", but the stove obviously was not alight.
§ How self-defeating and shortsighted it would be for the PLO or the Palestine National Council to reject such an American move, if it were made, because it failed to meet all their rights and aspirations at once. They have done this far too often. Step by step must be the right way, and in any case the Palestine National Council, whether or not it is regarded as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, cannot commit Palestinians after they have regained some form of self-government. So we should not make too much of this. When the day comes that the Palestinians have some form of self-government there will be no PLO because there will be nothing to liberate.
§ I am urging Her Majesty's Government to use every scrap of influence they can to persuade the White House to renew the Reagan initiative before it is too late. This is without doubt a highly propitious moment. All the moderate Arab countries are in a settling mood. Syria at present is completely out of step. The "peace for territory" movement in Israel gets stronger every day. There was a public opinion poll the week before last when 60 per cent. of those consulted said that they were in favour of negotiation with the Palestinians in order to exchange territory for peace. The Israelis learnt a bitter lesson in Lebanon. Israel's economy is flat on its back with inflation running at 750 per cent., judging by last week's figures. That is almost incredible. Defence expenditure is crippling, but Mr. Peres is a man of honour who could take advantage of the mood of his people and lead them out of their present political and social turmoil.
President Reagan will never be freer to adopt policies guided solely by his country's national interests and international obligations. There are obvious reasons for that. American aid for Israel is on such a mind-boggling scale that as The Times put it recently,
Israel is in a condition of total dependence".
§ Finally, although it is easy to over-estimate Russian influence in the Arab-Israel dispute, there are some straws in the wind that are disturbing even in Jordan, and in Kuwait as well, that as Western moves towards a peaceful settlement collapse one by one, Moscow is quick to seize its advantages cashing in on our failures.
§ I come towards my conclusion, sticking strictly to my time. I make no apology at all for my criticisms of American and EC policies. I hope that I have been fair 328 and I hope that I have been constructive because I did not wish to overstate the case. But I am very critical and I am very disappointed. I want to see a joint initiative by the United States and the Community supported to the hilt, at least by Britain and France as permanent members of the Security Council if not by the whole Community, in a major effort towards a step-by-step peace between Israel and her neighbours. This would require a joint working party, I suggest, at the very highest levels.
I end by telling your Lordships what President Reagan said a few months ago on the 40th anniversary of the Yalta Agreement. He said this:
We do not deny any nation's legitimate interest in security. But protecting the security of one nation by robbing another of its national independence and traditions is not legitimate. In the long run, it is not even secure".
I think that he was absolutely right, although he was speaking in another context. President Reagan we all know to be a man of very high principles and great courage and I conclude by saying that I think that we in your Lordships' House are entitled to look to him for a lead for action.
§ My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Lord Caradon
My Lords, I think that we should all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, for having raised this issue, which I think is inadequately discussed in our House. I think that it is very necessary that we should recognise the great danger that exists in the Middle East, the danger of local conflict and indeed the possibility of a wider war. Therefore, I think it is right and necessary that we should look to the contribution of Europe; and if we look back on recent years then I think we can only conclude that the record of Europe has been one of inactivity and, indeed, shameful inactivity. Therefore, I think that it is extremely opportune that this should be raised now in the context of the European contribution.
The argument that I should like most to urge upon your Lordships is that this is an international danger and that there is no possibility of a successful settlement without an international intervention. It has been recently suggested that all we need is to bring the two parties together. It is suggested that the representatives of the Arabs or the Palestinians should be decided by Israel—which seems to me rather a strange approach to a proposal for a joint discussion between both sides. But I would suggest that the possibility of agreement if both sides are brought together is practically non-existent. The reaching of a settlement by joint discussion between both sides is, in my opinion, not within the realms of possibility.
We should think of the issues involved. Let us take one of the issues, maybe one of the most important, the question of the future of Jerusalem. The Palestinians, backed by the Arabs of course, are asking for the restitution of their rights over the sites of Islam and Christianity in Jerusalem, whereas the Israeli Government has repeatedly declared its insistence upon the annexation of the whole of Jerusalem to Israel. This is the sort of issue on which it is not possible to get agreement by exchanges between both sides. I use the illustration to emphasise what I am putting to your Lordships: that there is no possibility 329 of advance in this most dangerous international situation except by international action.
If it is not possible to achieve results by bringing both sides together, as has recently been repeatedly suggested, then I would also say that it is not possible, in my opinion, to get any agreement in this desperately dangerous situation merely by the intervention of one great power even if that is a very powerful power. It is not, I think, to be accepted that the United States can provide the answer to the problem of the Middle East. It has already, by massive supplies of arms and money, backed one side; it has shown that in almost every aspect of the dispute it takes one side. If we are going to get a settlement, it must be obviously impartial and obviously international.
Therefore, I put this argument to your Lordships: that we should use our utmost influence in Europe with the initiative coming from Europe, maybe, but all the time moving towards an international intervention and an international solution. It is necessary, of course to deal with all aspects of the situation, which are complicated and difficult, as we know. But, when you put three purposes together—that is, the full independence of the Lebanese, the freedom of the Palestinians in their own homeland and the security of the Israelis in theirs—you realise that there is nothing contradictory in the three purposes. They run together; they are dependent upon each other. Therefore, I believe that the reference should be to the Security Council of the United Nations. There has been some talk of an international conference and, yes, I can see some arguments for it but I can see some arguments against it. The trouble with conferences is that people come but they also go away.
The great advantage of the Security Council of the United Nations is that it can embark, with the cooperation of everyone in the council and others, to where the Israelis, the Palestinians and the Arabs can be given full opportunity to participate in a continuing discussion and a search for peace. It is surely amazing that, for so many years with this danger growing, as we all, I think, realise, there has not been a reference of this issue to the Security Council.
There has been opposition to the actions of the Security Council—and I think this is a very serious situation indeed—on a wider aspect. We are now getting to the stage where we expect from the United States that they will oppose the Law of the Sea, where there is the question of the future of the United Nations agencies and where you get a constant opposition and a rufusal to use the instrument which was created and which can successfully deal with a situation as dangerous as this.
I should like to put it to your Lordships that it is a matter not of asking the United States to deal with the matter or expecting that it can come from a joint conference. No, it must come from a worldwide effort in the Security Council established for that purpose in order to find a way in consultation, certainly with the Israelis and with the Palestinians and with every one else concerned to find a plan which neither side could initiate but which both can eventually accept, and to find a way in which the decisions then taken are hacked by a great range of international opinion to put 330 into effect the decisions of the Security Council This is the action which I believe should be called on now.
The freedom of Palestinians, the security of Israel, are not in conflict. One is dependent upon the other. So what chance have we now of seeing the leadership in the world in the Security Council, in which I would hope that our country would take a leading part" What chance have we now of seeing a new proposal after the discussions with all concerned and, indeed, with the consistent and continuing discussion among those concerned? What chance have we got that this, the finest achievement of the United Nations, could now be made effective? I should like to think that it is possible—and why not? I do not forget the occasion when, years ago, I looked to my right in the Security Council of the United Nations Assembly and rejoiced to see the vote of the Soviet representative for the British resolution, thus making it unanimous Why should it not happen again? Why should there not be leadership in the world to find an answer to a problem which, it is true, is affected by malice, hatred and obstruction? Why is it not possible that we should see this triumph now in international relations?
I like to think it is not necessary to assume that the two super powers will be more intent on their enmity than on their interests. I like to think that the Israelis—encouraged greatly, it is true, by massive support from the United States—will not wish to spend their time achieving the subordination of their neighbours. I like to think that the Palestinians will not be condemned indefinitely to obstruction and great suffering. I think all those things are possible; and I like to think, too, that Europe can take the initiative and can indicate a way in which good sense, mutual benefit and the yearning of the people mainly concerned for peace can at last prevail.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Ripon
My Lords, I have no personal experience which equips me to contribute to this debate. I do so because the debate is about a calamitous conflict with a religious dimension. It is not primarily a religious conflict but a political one, between the State of Isreal, whose overriding need arising from the history of the Jewish people is for security, and the Arab nations and communities, united by a desire for territory for the Palestinian Arabs.
Inevitably, the polarisation into two bodies, one with a Jewish history and ethos and the other with a common Moslem allegiance, gives the conflict a religious dimension in which passions—not political only but religious also—run deep. No outsider can hope to say anything about the situation without misunderstanding by one side or the other. Yet each body can be understood from within as being right in its basic conviction.
To read the history of the Jewish people and the Zionist movement leading to the establishment of the State of Israel is to enter into a passionate and powerful story. A major factor in that story is the element of anti-semitism within the European people, of which I have to confess that the element of anti-semitism within the history of the Christian Church is a part. The Jews from Europe went to America and 331 established a secure position and a financial base. They went to Palestine to seek a national homeland. The British handling of the mandate in the 1940s and the United Nations intervention brought about the transformation of this homeland into a national state. To hear the story from Jewish lips is to listen to a record of suffering, agony, hope and fulfilment. But the cost to the Palestinian Arabs was terrible, with the loss of their lands and properties, and the hopeless regime of the refugee camps.
The Arabs felt, and feel, betrayed, dispossessed and bereft of their land and holy places. To hear the story from Arab lips is to understand that the Arabs now sit where the Jews have so frequently sat in the past—in the place of dispossession and ignominy. We listen in these stories to two proud peoples, trapped by their histories into an apparently irreconcilable hostility and conflict. In the face of this conflict, any comment sounds trite and superficial. Nevertheless, our British history is intertwined with their histories and we cannot avoid sharing the task of reconciliation, without which there will be further and deeper bitterness, and perhaps greater bloodshed.
The guidelines which I offer from the British Churches are intended as a modest contribution to that task of reconciliation. They are derived in part from a speech made by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, who took part in the visit of an ecumenical team to the Middle East in 1981. They are derived in part from a statement of the British Council of Churches on the Middle East last year.
The first guideline is the need to enter understandingly into the fears and hopes of both sides. I have already spoken of listening attentively to both stories. The passions expressed in those stories must be recognised. We must not take sides without first grappling with the power of each story to grip its people with a sense of their own rightness. I believe that to affirm both sides in this way is not the same as to assert that there are no failures on each side. From the outside there are wrongs on both sides: the use of terrorism, violence and counter-violence. At the heart of this there is a failure to recognise—and I believe that this is recognition not only in the political sense but also in the human sense—people as people. It is when Jew meets Arab and Arab meet Jew and they look eye to eye and affirm one another as human beings that attitudes change. I believe that in the human sense as well as in the political sense recognition is necessary. That recognition is made possible by affirmation from without of the rightness of the stories that we hear.
The second guideline that is offered is the need to maintain relationships with the Christian communities in the Middle East, many of them ancient churches whose histories go back to the beginnings of Christianity. Members of these Christian churches have suffered and continue to suffer in the conflict. They are mostly Arab churches, but if they were to recognise their Jewish inheritance they could become builders of bridges over the religious gulf. The noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, has already referred to the necessity of a political catalyst. Maybe there is a need also for a religious catalyst—a person or a community who can be present to bring about new attitudes between those of different and hostile religious 332 communities. Such changes of attitude must surely come before any agreement or consensus about the custody of holy places, however important that may be.
The third guideline from the British Churches is a theological one: to be wary of giving political support solely on the basis of theological understanding, particularly biblical prophecy. There is a kind of Christian fundamentalism which uses biblical exegesis unwisely and, I would argue, unsoundly. Instead of leading to reconciliation, which must involve compromise, such a fundamentalism evokes intolerance by making political objectives into religious absolutes. To quote the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York:How can essentially religious people, whether Jews, Christian or Moslems, express their religious commitments politically without thereby transforming politics from the art of the possible into the pursuit of the absolute?Finally, I share a word of warning from others more experienced than myself in the Middle East. The failure to find a resolution of this conflict is producing an increasing religious extremism among all communities. This extremism makes life increasingly difficult for those who seek the common ground. The resurgence of fundamentalist Islam, in Iran and in Lebanon, the influence of some religious parties in Israel, even Christian groups seeking a Maronite enclave in Lebanon, all make for difficulties in reaching a negotiated settlement. I believe the British Churches have a part to play in bringing about a state of affairs in which the religious resources of the Middle East—Moslem, Christian and Jewish—are used not to further conflict, division and hatred, but to bring about mutual recognition and just settlement.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon has spoken with eloquence and with justice. Which of your Lordships, and which of our ancestors over the last thousand years, have not seen or read of the orthodox Jews standing with their hands or their foreheads against the Wall of the Temple lamenting their exclusion in "the place of dispossession and ignominy" to quote the Bishop of Ripon? All of us who have must realise that around the frontiers of the present State of Israel, annexed or real, there are Arabs who are internally in that place of dispossession and ignominy but there is no symbol for them to lean upon as the Jews lean upon their Temple, which is now a mosque.
When I read the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, I thought he was going to say that it is time we came back to the Venice Declaration and that the European Community should throw its weight about a little more in search of a Middle Eastern settlement. I was surprised to find that he did not say that at all but that the European Community ought to pool its diplomatic efforts in order to persuade President Reagan to have another go at producing a settlement.
I have to say I agree rather more with the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, when he says that if we can continue a unified European Community policy it will be wiser to press the United Nations to do what is best rather than to invite the Americans to try yet again. The reason for this has been stated already by the noble Lord, Lord Caradon. It seems to me that both 333 the great world powers are in fact excluded from any hope of assisting progress. The Soviet Union is a very long way from the Middle East. Its total civil aid to Syria since 1955 has been about 806 million dollars. Nobody can tell what its military aid has been because they do not trade in a way which is visible in money terms; but it is very large. I have been there, as I am sure many of your Lordships have, and have seen the Syrian army and air force. It is large. Compared with the population of the country, it is very large. It is well disciplined; and the equipment is modern, but not super modern. The Soviet Union is out as a mediator because it is the patron of Syria, which is one, as I shall argue in a moment, of the two chief contestants.
To return to the United States, we find that since 1948 United States civil aid to Israel has been 7.2 billion dollars, which is nearly 10 times the Soviet civil aid to Syria to a country with a population of about one-eighth of that of Syria. We find that during that period United States military aid to Israel has been 16 billion dollars, which is no less than 17 per cent. of all the military aid it has given to anybody in the world since 1948—and that to a population of two and a bit million. We make the comparison of 806 million dollars of civil Soviet aid to Syria with 7.2 billion dollars of United States civil aid to Israel. I think The Times is right in saying that there is approaching a total economic dependence on the United States in Israel, and to formalise this they have recently declared what amounts to a customs union.
The United States is disqualified for the equal and opposite reason why the Soviet Union is disqualified. Its partisanship for one of the chief contestants is even more intense than the Soviet Union's for the other. It is even further away than the Soviet Union from the Middle East.
The United Kingdom has not taken any of the contestants under its wing or given noticeable military aid to anybody, but we have a great political aim in the world. That is to build up the ability of the European Community to come to common foreign policy positions. I think that this country, it is fair to say, has done better than some of its continental friends in achieving this. It was carried forward very sharply during the time when the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was Foreign Secretary. Great steps were made then in political co-operation. The main fruit of that period was of course the Venice Declaration, which we are by implication debating today.
Is it time for this country to do something? No. We should do it through the European Community. Is it time for the European Community to do something? Yes, it is, through the political co-operation machinery. What should it do? I think that the condition of all progress is for anybody who seeks to lend a helping hand to get away from the 19th century picture of the sovereign independent nation state. Of course, there are nation states in the Middle East, but they are not nation states as we are in Europe, or the United States or even the Soviet Union.
There are the so-called Arab countries, which consist of large numbers of people of the same religion, language, appearance, "race" if you like, and the same history, who happen to be divided up in a way not at 334 all of their choosing. They used to drift around the Middle East in the Bedouin ages declaring their allegiance to any sheikh the quality of whose justice appealed to them. They were free to do this wherever they were. The habit dies hard. We can see this once again in the case of the Palestinians who have had to leave Israel. They have nothing else to do. They give their allegiance to a sheikh who pleases them, whether he happens to be in Tunis, Amman or even Tripoli, or wherever he may be.
Let us see, then, whether the State of Israel has something of the same quality. It is an emanation or concentration of the world's Jewish people. It reflects Jewish characteristics which were formed all over the world, and the quality of its links with outside countries is quite different from the quality of out links with outside countries—and even more so, shall we say, from German links with outside countries. It is porous in feeling and in history. It is a mere concentration of Jewry, just as each Arab country is a mere division of "Arabry" (if there is such a word) into an arbitrary geographical unit.
These are the states which have to make peace in the end. Do what we will in this country, in the European Community, in the Soviet Union, in the United States, we can only help them do what they want to do. They want to make peace: we know that. At the moment it seems to me—I think it is hard to deny—that the matter lies between Israel and Syria. Lebanon no longer exists. It has been destroyed by many actions over many years, all of them the unhappy and unwished-for result of the establishment of the State of Israel.
Jordan has had only a shadowy existence at the best of times. Its frontiers are rather vague in the West. There is no Jordanian people. A Jordanian sort of Arab is not as different from any other sort of Arab as a Syrian sort of Arab is. Half the people who live under the rule of King Hussein at the moment are "Palestinians". Of course, they are all Palestinian really. Palestine used to include Jordan, if the name meant anything. But half of them are those who have had to leave what was their home before, either in undoubted Israel or on the West Bank, the status of which is disputed. There is nothing that King Hussein can really do when only half of his people owe allegiance just to him. He is the prisoner of the other half.
Egypt, by a sublime and blessed act of imagination, offered peace to Israel and found that offer met promptly with generosity, and successfully. It is an amazing achievement. The moral is there for all other Arab countries to see. Who knows whether they would be greeted with as much imagination and generosity as President Sadat was? We have no reason to think that they would not, but they are not as well placed to do it as he was. If there is a unified Arab country, it is Egypt. He had his own people with him, or controllable—rather a homogeneous people.
Lastly, there is Syria—and here is the point. Israel is withdrawing from Lebanon after three years. There is much press coverage of the effect of that on Lebanon and on Israel. We must not forget that Israel is also withdrawing from artillery range of the capital of Syria. For three years Israeli guns have been on the Lebanese heights within range of Damascus. It could 335 have been bombarded. We all know that in the age of rockets it does not matter as much as it used to, but as a psychological factor it is very strong.
There is then the phenomenon of the Golan Heights. We say "Golan" because we are so familiar with the Israeli point of view, but the Arabic name is "Jolan". Syria contains a great many refugees from the Syrian province of Jolan, who are more of a political force in Damascus than the others because they are Syrians and the others are not; they are Palestinians, Lebanese or whatever they might be. This is the silent conflict which is not discussed enough. A solution lies in a settlement between Israel and Syria above all others, and that settlement depends above all other factors on a settlement of the Golan/Jolan question.
I should like to say one last word about the Camp David procedure. Some people say that it will solve all problems: some say that it can solve none. It has solved one problem, but I do not believe there is much chance of it solving any more. So, to sum up, I am for Britain's initiative towards the EEC to get an initiative towards the UN which will help the countries on the spot to get together, and principally Israel and Syria.
§ 5.53 p.m.
My Lords, it gives me the greatest pleasure to welcome this debate this afternoon, which was so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, almost exactly three years after his earlier one, and it is delightful to see so many noble Lords who took part in that debate speaking again this afternoon.
The Motion directs us to consider what efforts can be made to get the European Community to bridge the terrible gap between the Arabs and the Israelis. I feel there is very little that European countries can do, either collectively or individually. Our own country, we know, is still held in high regard and yet, unfortunately we do not cut a great deal of ice, either in the Arab world or with Israel. France, no doubt, cuts rather more ice. Italy has won a round of applause recently for the splendid performance of its peacekeeping contingent in Lebanon.
But, of the other European countries in the Community, what do they achieve, what do they know and what are their concerns and their interests in the Arab world?—really very little. So can we really see these countries making any positive attempt to breach this terrible gap between the Arabs and Israel or to pick up the shattered pieces of the Lebanese Humpty-Dumpty? Like the Carpenter in Alice in Wonderland, I doubt it and I "shed a bitter tear". The only country with any real power and real pull, as the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, said, is the United States. But then, as the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, has indicated, and as other noble Lords will probably indicate too, their massive involvement with Israel is a gravely inhibiting factor.
Let me give your Lordships just one example. Very recently, the Americans established a Voice of America transmitter in Israel, and the people running the programmes that it transmitted were told that in no circumstances whatever were there to be any broadcasts in any way critical of Israel. The Americans have tried, they have tried again and again to get the Israelis 336 to exercise a more conciliatory policy. They have tried to restrain the Israeli settlement policy, about which I want to say more later, but they have failed. Indeed, one almost feels that the situation is rather like that of the Sorcerer's Apprentice. The Americans are unable, like that apprentice, to restrain the wonder child which they took such great pains in bringing into being.
But I must return to reality. As the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, said, the last three years have seen a distressing hardening of attitudes. On the Israeli side, we find continuing obduracy and intransigence, which I suppose stems mainly from fear, while on the Arab side we have growing hatred leading to desperation. Nevertheless, I know that many moderate Arabs and many moderate Israelis deplore the present trends and would like to see more moderate policies pursued.
May I refer to an article in Time and Tide last year by Gerald Kaufman? (I refer to him thus, rather than in his ministerial capacity, because he was writing privately and not officially.) He deplored in very forthright terms the aggressive, expansionist policy that is now being pursued by the Government of Israel, which is so greatly at variance with the pacific aims of the founding fathers of the State of Israel.
One point that one has to bear in mind is that Arabs have elephantine memories. They ponder politics to a much greater extent then we do in the West. Just as they have not forgotten the Balfour Declaration, so they have not forgotten that Israeli attack on Lebanon in June 1982, that monstrous massacre which was master-minded by Sharon—and, indeed, it was a monstrous massacre; make no mistake about that—with 17,000 people killed in the first few days and 60,000 to 80,000 wounded, so we understand.
The memories of that will not die. Nor, indeed, will the memories of what the Israelis have been doing in Lebanon with their "iron fist" policy, and also the gradual encroachment of the Israeli octopus in the West Bank area. It is that area that I want to deal with particularly, because it is of crucial importance. There are several other aspects with which I want to deal, but I must concentrate on that.
One thing which stands out a mile is that the Government of Israel has no intention whatever of relinquishing its hold on the West Bank. Another very sad aspect of the situation is that Shimon Peres, the Prime Minister, who we had hoped would pursue a conciliatory role, has not realised that hope, and this expansionist policy continues. It is very difficult to get reliable figures about what is going on on the West Bank, but I can produce certain information and I am fairly sure that it is correct.
Let me deal first with land. Israel now controls 52 per cent. of the land on the West Bank, according to a recent report from the West Bank data base project. Furthermore, the study shows that, of this 52 per cent. 41 per cent. has been brought under direct Israeli control and the other 11 per cent. has been declared a forbidden zone for building and farming and is therefore under the effective control of the Government.
I come now to settlements. A great deal has been said about the Israeli settlement policy. No one quite knows exactly how many they have, but there are probably just about 200 now. The point here is not so 337 much the number of the settlements but the policy behind their establishment. Whereas formerly these settlements were being established in agricultural land because they were predominantly agricultural settlements, they are now beng established in hilly land. They are being built on little hills, and they are being built, it seems, for strategic reasons. Indeed, some of them seem to resemble Kitchener's blockhouses or even miniature Crusader castles. They attract very few people. Some of these settlements have fewer than 30 settlers. But, despite the country's growing economic problems and quite apart from the reluctance of many Israelis to live in such a harsh environment, the Israeli Government is pursuing this policy of settlement expansion.
Another very important aspect with which I shall deal briefly is justice or lack of justice to Arabs. Last year, for example, 5,222 West Bank Gaza residents were convicted in military courts; 64 per cent. more than the 3,339 in 1983. It is quite clear that the Israeli attitude towards student troubles and towards offenders in universities and so on is hardening. It is an interesting and important point that a survey conducted two years ago revealed that Jews convicted of drug offences were receiving sentences seven times less severe than Arabs convicted of similar charges.
Then there has been Israel's policy of depriving Arabs of water, Yes, indeed, they have been doing just that. For example, there is a regulation which says that every Arab must have a permit before he digs a well and that no well may exceed 30 feet in depth; whereas the Israelis have unlimited access to water.
Finally, there is the road construction policy. The Israeli Government has embarked on a massive policy of building roads in the West Bank. These roads are designed to link the Israeli settlements, by-passing the Arab centres of population.
So I feel very strongly that, however we proceed in our attempts to solve this Arab-Israel problem, Her Majesty's Government must exert the greatest possible influence on the Israeli Government over its settlement policy. This was reflected in a speech which the Secretary of State made on his last visit to Israel. They must exert all possible pressure on the Israeli Government to get it to modify its repressive and oppressive policy in the West Bank before there remains in that area not a single square yard of territory to put on the negotiating table.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Lord Kagan
My Lords, anybody who has visited Israel is fully aware that Israel not only wants peace but desperately needs it; but it does not know how to achieve it. A third of its national budget goes on military expenditure, at a tremendous cost to the standard of living, to employment and to all the aspiration of the Israeli people. This is not being done voluntarily and when the world exhorts Israel to rely on internationally binding guarantees every Israeli schoolchild will refer you to the fate of Czechoslovakia; it did.
The Israelis are reconciled to living under a constant threat. It has been the declared policy of Yassir Arafat, of the Syrians, of Khomeini and of Gaddafi in Libya to 338 drive the Israelis into the sea. It is easy to give advice, but one must take into account that the Jews remember what happened to them in the concentration camps and how far they could rely on morality in international politics, on good will and on security provided by others. If it comes to the ultimate, the Jewish aim is, if they cannot live in peace, at least to die in dignity. That is the reason for the militaristic role which Israel is supposed to assume. That is important.
No Israeli mother sends her son into battle willingly; no mother has ever allowed her son to join the army more willingly; and no Israeli wants to lose his young life. But they think they have no choice. In fact there is a Hebrew expression "Ein Breira". It is the secret weapon of Israel. Do noble Lords know what it means?—"No choice". That is their view.
I should like to quote a speech by Gaddafi which was made as recently as the middle of May. He declared:It is legitimate for our entire people to liquidate its enemies abroad and quite openly".The speech was made only a few weeks ago. The resources of the world, which has to buy Libyan oil, are going to help him in this.
I do not think that I need waste your Lordships' time in referring to Khomeini. Khomeini is quite willing to take children away from their mothers to send them to certain and horrible death in a fight between Moslem and Moslem. Could the Jews in Israel, if ever someone such as Khomeini got the upper hand, expect understanding, mercy or justice? Israel wants to negotiate. Israel wants to come to an accommodation. But with whom? Moderate voices by Israelis—noble Lords have referred to them—are heard and may be criticised, but moderate voices by Arabs are murdered—Sadat.
People talk about the freedom of the Arabs; but the Arabs have lost far less freedom to the Israeli Government than they have to the coercion of the PLO. No Arab can proclaim a point of view which conflicts with that of Yassir Arafat or the PLO and survive it.
The holy sites have been mentioned here. When Jordan was in occupation in Jerusalem the wailing wall and the Jewish holy sites were not accessible to the Jews. Nobody can say now that religious worship is inhibited by the Israeli Government. It is encouraged. Israel is a democracy. Of course it has its factions, but on one thing the nation is united: it cannot for a second time in its history leave its fate to the good will of other nations. As I said before, the memory of the concentration camps is still very strong in people's minds.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon came closest to understanding the position there when he referred to a land being taken away. When the Jews came to Israel it was an arid desert. Bedouins wandered across it. If one flies over Israel today, one does not need to look at a map to identify Israeli territory, because it is a flowering garden. But on the other side it is still desert. The native population of Israel before the Jews went into it were Bedouins who never stayed more than two or three months on the same spot.
339 I must not exceed my time. I shall conclude by saying this. The Jews are supposed to be a logical people. When I was last in Israel I asked this question: where will it all lead to and where will it end? The reply I received was, "Once upon a time we believed in miracles; now we may have to rely on them". And so they will.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Lord Sandys
My Lords, your Lordships greatly appreciate this opportunity which has been afforded us by my noble friend Lord Chelwood to discuss this whole subject. We rarely have such an opportunity and so it is with particular pleasure that I join in this debate. In considering the events of the past 48 hours it is perhaps of great significance that more than 1,150 prisoners—mainly Palestinians—have been exchanged for three Israelis. This is the second exchange of prisoners within about two and a half years, since in November 1983 some 4,500 PLO prisoners were exchanged for six Israelis. I understand that the latest exchange was arranged by direct negotiation between Yassir Arafat and the authorities in Israel. Surely this is of very great significance.
One must pay tribute first, naturally, to the mechanics of these negotiations—and particular tribute to the Committee of the International Red Cross which effected them. One must pay tribute also to the two governments concerned. One must most particularly pay tribute to the fact that the negotiations culminated in an exchange.
While many of your Lordships would agree with the deep doubt cast by the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, on the possibility of reaching an agreement of any sort, nevertheless a negotiation achieving an exchange of prisoners, while not considerable in terms of the overall negotiations, is in itself a very satisfactory step. After all, it is in accord with the step-by-step approach which my noble friend Lord Chelwood said he favoured when making his opening remarks. He spoke of a hardening and fomenting situation; one which calls upon the EC to make greater efforts. In the light of the agreement, and exchange of prisoners, it is timely that a further initiative should be taken. I hope that my noble friend Lady Young will feel able to respond in very positive terms when she comes to reply.
I was interested by what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in regard to the possibility of an initiative in respect of the Syrian-Israel situation at the Golan Heights. Naturally I was very disappointed by what he said about Jordan, as I was by what the noble Lord, Lord Kagan, said, who gave the impression that Jordan consists of a desert. It is of course true that today Amman is one of the greatest capitals in the Middle East. It is a major centre of population. It is a joy for all those friends of Jordan to see the success of many irrigation and fertilisation schemes and other projects which have been attracted to that country over the past 25 years—and most especially in regard to the areas more beneficial to cultivation.
I should like to recall the words of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister when she said in another context that:Programmes and initiatives always produce better results if more sharply focused".340 We are focusing on particular areas in this dispute. It is often the case that when one initiative produces success it may lead to another. Before Mr. Henry Kissinger started his whole range of shuttle diplomacy, who would have believed, before that remarkable period began, that it could have achieved what it did? Negotiations can often build on their own successes. I hope very much that there is a possibility something may be achieved along the lines suggested.
In concluding my brief remarks, perhaps I may say that the work of the United Nations relief work agency now based in Vienna, so far distant from Beirut, should receive the further assistance of all the countries of the United Nations. It is very notable that throughout its existence the Russian contribution to this very major project of sustaining the unfortunate victims of this whole problem has been little, if anything.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, I believe that I agree with every word spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, when he introduced this debate. I would particularly urge the noble Baroness the Minister, when she replies, to give specific answers to the very specific questions that the noble Lord put to her, suggesting a weakening of the British Government on a number of important issues.
I should like to speak about the security of Israel, which was spoken about very eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Kagan. It seems to me that the European Community has shown quite plainly that self-determination for the Palestinians would serve the cause of peace, and would of course be in the interests of the Palestinians. Sometimes I wish that the European Community would also press on the Israelis and the Americans that self-determination is also in the vital security interests of the Israelis themselves. This is understood by a small but growing minority of courageous Israelis; namely, that self-determination for the Palestinians—whether it takes the form of a Palestinian state that is independent or a federation with Jordan—is in the security interests of Israel far more than the current conduct of Israel in international affairs, which actually detracts from her security.
The argument is that a Palestinian state, whether independent or federated, would undermine Israel's security. That belief is sincerely held by many Israelis—as those people, like myself, who have been to Israel and discussed this matter, know. However, that belief is wholly irrational from the military point of view. One look at the map shows that this small, open territory is surrounded on three sides by Israel; that the one air strip is within artillery range of Israel; and that the one port—Gaza—is at the mercy of the Israeli Navy. A glance at the map shows also that, from a military point of view, Palestinian self-determination would give a hostage to Israel rather than be a security threat.
So far as terrorism goes, the same is true. There is already, unfortunately, a terrorist threat inside Israel and against the settlers in the occupied territories. Self-determination is in a number of ways likely to lessen rather than increase that threat; first, and most obviously, by modifying the bitter sense of outrage felt 341 by young Palestinians about the humiliation, oppression and deprivation of their people.
Then also of course the Palestinian leaders in these circumstances would have something that they do not have now and have lacked in the past—namely, police, prisons and a judiciary—with which to control the minority of extremist terrorist groups which have done all the harm in the past. I believe that Europe should convey some of those points very strongly to the Americans and the Israelis, and should also offer peace-keeping in the event of a settlement between the boundary of Israel and any new Palestinian entity.
But, above all, I believe that it is a fatal illusion to think that Israel's present policies in any way offer her long-term security. The idea that military dominance and the unconditional aid that she now gets from the United States can give her a long-term guarantee of security is a very dangerous illusion. In the short term that may be so, and in the short term, despite the military setback in Lebanon, the new hostility of the Shiah Moslems and the lower morale of the Israeli defence forces—in spite of all those things—in the short term of course Israel has the military dominance in the region.
But the gap is closing as far as the military balance of power is concerned. It is masked a bit by the Gulf war and a bit by the precarious neutrality of Egypt, but the balance is plainly closing; and in economic and financial power the balance is going firmly against Israel in the long term; and so are the facts of demography, which may be the decisive factors in the end. There is the differential birthrate between Jews and Arabs inside Israel and between Israel and the Arab and Islamic world, the increase in net immigration from Israel and the assimilation in the Jewish Diaspora. All those things are important if one takes not just the immediate view. In the immediate view the cause of the Palestinians seems hopeless; but if one projects existing trends 10 or 20 years, a totally different picture emerges.
It will be argued that the Americans will always bail the Israelis out. That may be true, and a number of speakers have said already that in fact Israel is extremely dependent on the United States. I would add only that Congress is also extremely dependent on the pro-Israeli lobby in Washington. My information is that 50 per cent. of the Democratic Party's funds and 25 per cent. of the Republican Party's funds come from pro-Israeli sources.
But all the time in the long term the gap is growing between Israel's requirements from the United States and the national interests of the United States. Her unconditional support for Israel isolates her at the United Nations. It alienates from her the Islamic world and a large part of the third world. It makes difficulties sometimes between her and her European NATO allies. It gives openings to the Soviet Union. One day quite certainly voices will be raised in the United States calling for an American rather than an American-Jewish policy in the Middle East.
Even supposing that Israel succeeds in what appears unfortunately to be her present policy and succeeds in incorporating the West Bank and Gaza into Israel, perhaps with the expulsion of many, many more refugees into Jordan, it will not solve the problem. It will only increase the stakes. The problem will be 342 deepened because, having thrown aside the option of two Palestines co-existing, which is the European concept and the concept that surely offers the best hopes, the Israelis will simply have raised the question: who is to own and control the whole of Israel? Is it to be the Jews or is it to be the Arabs? They will have created a zero-sum situation.
I would say that Israel was more secure before her victories in 1967 than after. I believe that she was more secure before her victory in 1973 than after. I am sure that she was more secure before she invaded Lebanon than after. If therefore she continues in that way, relying solely on fire power and the Washington lobby, I do not believe in the long run that there is much hope for her survival—that is to say, hope that she will survive as an independent Jewish state into the next century.
Her own security demands that she must grant Palestinian nationalism some expression—that she must grant self-determination to the Palestinian people. I should like to see the Europeans laying a good deal more stress upon that, trying to reasure the Israelis that it does not mean undermining their security, but that what the European Community recommends—namely, self-determination for the Palestinians—is in the interests not only of the Palestinians but also in the long-term interests of the Israelis themselves.
§ 6.25 p.m.
The Earl of Oxford and Asquith
My Lords. I join with other speakers in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, for giving us the opportunity for this debate, and I do so the more readily because I agree with so much that he said and indeed with what many other speakers have said this evening, including in particular the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, who has just sat down.
For 50 years and more the Arab-Isreali conflict has proved so intractable that there is now the danger that we may be learning to live with it. There have been so many attempts in the past to reach a settlement and so many failures to achieve one, that we are tempted to wash our hands of the problem and, if there is to be any solution at all, to regard that as the sole responsibility of the United States. Historically of course it is a European problem and more particularly a British one. That is one good reason for not washing our hands of it, though it is not the most important one.
The most important reason is that, while no solution can be achieved without the Americans, no solution seems likely if it is to be left to the Americans alone. The question, after all, is one of mediation, and for a sole mediator to be successful his impartiality must gain the acceptance of both parties. The Americans, to use an Americanism, lack credibility in that vital respect. The well-known Zionist pressures in their home politics, the massive military and economic aid given to one of the two parties out of all proportion to the other, the equivocal American attitude towards the West Bank occupation and the West Bank settlements—all these and many other factors cannot fail to arouse suspicion in Arab minds. Europe, with fewer pressures, is better placed to take a more balanced view, and if America neglects the advice 343 which Europe could offer in this matter it is very hard to believe that she will have greater success in the future than she has had in the past.
The recent past has indeed shown a succession of failures—the sterile outcome of the Camp David accords; the intervention in Lebanon which had so ignominiously to be abandoned; the so-called Reagan plan, which seemed to offer some hope, which indeed might be revived but which was not at the time pursued with the necessary flexibility or determination. Arab disunity is sometimes blamed for such failures, and it is of course one of the difficulties in the whole situation. But I have the impression that America often uses it as an excuse for doing nothing.
Time, I am afraid, is not on the side of peace, and I do not believe that one of the options is a peaceful stalemate. Frustration breeds extremism and not peace, with all the instability that extremism in that context could bring. One of the obvious dangers here is the growth of Islamic radicalism, which in its political forms has already caused so much disruption in the Middle East. It has not so far succeeded in undermining the moderate Arab regimes, but it is all too possible that it may one day do so.
The alternative to stalemate, apart from war (which God forbid!) is compromise, which is a very different matter. In spite of all the dashed hopes of the past, I, like the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, believe that it is still possible to see some hopeful signs. On the Arab side there are the increased contacts and growing rapprochement between moderate Arab leaders. On the Israeli side, there is evidence that currents of moderate opinion within Israel are now somewhat stronger than in the past. The ever-growing strains on Israel's economy caused by keeping the country on a war footing should also prove favourable to a climate of compromise.
Against this background, with elements on the one hand of increasing danger and on the other of increased hope, there is surely opportunity for Europe to renew its attempts at mediation while there is still time. As your Lordhips well know, and have been reminded, such an attempt was made five years ago and resulted in the Venice Declaration, to which our Government subscribed. Cold-shouldered at the time by the United States, the impetus petered out in what I can only describe as a pusillanimous failure of the European will.
Much has happened since then; none of it has been good, nor can any of it be of much encouragement to the Americans, who must surely appreciate the threat to their own position in the Middle East as indeed to ours, if extremism should prevail. If we add to this President Reagan's concern for the Atlantic Alliance and his fear of the threat of Communism, we may well expect him to be now more receptive to a European participation in the dialogue. It would certainly be best if all countries in the Community could be included in such an approach, at least eventually. However, in case the machinery for this proved too slow moving and a European consensus now more difficult to achieve, then I fully agree that a firm Franco-British move could well be the most useful start, France and Britain being the two permanent European members of the Security Council.
344 As the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, has said, it is to the Americans, especially, that our action should at present be directed, since their role is indispensable if progress is to be made—and at present no progress is being made. The Euro-Arab dialogue is also of importance and should be resumed. By encouraging a gradualist rather than an all-or-nothing approach; by seeking and encouraging the voice of moderation wherever it can be heard (for example, taking advantage of the new Jordanian-Palestinian accord and preventing it from falling apart); by consulting more actively with all the parties concerned (not excluding the Syrians, who, like it or not, will remain an essential factor in the equation but with whom the Americans are barely on speaking terms), we should in all such ways be making it possible for proposals to emerge to which Europe can lend its weight—proposals which America may find hard to reject or encourage Israel to reject and in which the PLO, or a substantial part of it, might acquiesce.
These are generalities. Your Lordships may think that one ought to be more specific in one's recommendations. I have one particular suggestion to offer. There are two major stumbling blocks which in recent years have stood in the way of any constructive dialogue between the main parties concerned. On the Arab side, there is the question of an explicit recognition of the right of Israel to exist within its 1967 boundaries, coupled with the Arab insistence that no dialogue would be meaningful unless the PLO took part in it or at least were in some way associated with it. On the Israeli and American side there is the refusal not merely to recognise the PLO but to allow them any direct participation in a dialogue unless they first explicitly admit Israel's right.
The result is an impasse because both sides are stuck in positions from which politically and psychologically they are unable to retreat. Both sides are in need of a third party to help them extricate themselves. This is just one instance where European mediation could play a valuable part.
In conclusion, I should like to ask the noble Baroness if she will give us information on two points. First, can she confirm that the principles embodied in the Venice Declaration are still recognised by the Government as the ultimate basis for an acceptable solution, despite America's reluctance to accept all of them at the present time? Your Lordships have been reminded already of these principles, so there is no need for me to repeat them now. Secondly, I ask the Minister if she can give an indication that our contacts with all parties concerned will be more actively pursued. The final articles of the Venice Declaration called for this as a prelude to determining the form which our contribution towards a settlement could most usefully take. Our contribution during the last four years has, in my view, been much less effective than it could and should have been. Is it the Government's intention that our efforts should be increased?
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, I should first like to put on record the thanks that we all owe the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, for his endeavours, over so many years, to find a peaceful and just settlement to the horrendous 345 situation that exists in the Middle East, where murder, butchery and slaughter go cheek by jowl with religion. One used to think at one time that it was only the Europeans who behaved like that, who slaughtered and butchered, stopped for a few hours while the padres got together to say a few words to the Almighty, and then again set about butchering and slaying each other.
We had all hoped that that had finished. Then the 1966 war started. That was another war without a declaration. There were standards even in wartime. I have witnessed it twice in my life: in 1939 and then again in 1966. Since then the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, has maintained a very balanced and courageous view. He has sometimes stated something that was terribly unpopular, which was that the Arabs, too, had a case. He has stuck to his guns. I think that should be put on the record. Slowly but surely people are taking the line that even the Arabs have a point of view. That is good because it might compel the Israelis to listen to their courageous minority who have always declared that the Arabs have a point of view.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon said that the terrible atrocities inflicted on Jewish people by European Christians were horrendous. They were horrendous. We all know about them. The point the Bishop should have made very strongly was this; and I shall make it for him. There was no particular Arab involved in that appalling holocaust, none whatsoever. We must take full cognisance of this because young people, half my age, in both America and Britain are taking cognisance of it.
For example, the noble Lord, Lord Kagan, mentioned Czechoslovakia. I can understand his point of view. We did not do very much about it. I hope that there are not many Israelis who condemned us because we did not act against Czechoslovakia, because when we acted, whether or not it was to save our own skins, we did a massive job in saving world Jewry. I shall stand and say that for as long as I have breath.
Another matter that hurts me is this. Some young men who I knew were called up almost in the last hours of that war in which we defeated fascism that was dedicated to wiping out world Jewry. They then left to go to the Middle East because of the problem there. They ended their lives at the bombs of the Jewish terrorists. That has always to be put on the record. If we can acknowledge these things with courage, we can move to understanding.
My noble friend Lord Kagan mentioned Gaddafi and Khomeini. I do not know how many Israelis are having a go at that pair of boys. They are very unpopular people. But they are not suffering a great deal. The people who have suffered, by and large, are the Lebanese and the Palestinians—not Gaddafi, not Khomeini. I do not hold any score for them. That should be clearly understood. They are just about as despicable as the Israeli Minister of Defence, who said that it was his aim to wipe out every Palestinian, man, women and child. He is a villain, too, along with the other pair.
We have also to consider what is happening in Israel. I get my information from Israelis, who are shocked. They went to that country, some of them from America, some from Europe, in some cases never having been there before in their lives—it was a 346 brand new world for them—and some from my own tiny little nation, Wales. I hope that my noble friend Lord Kagan acknowledges what I wish to say next. I know that my noble friend Lord Caradon does. If the world had listened to the wonderful speech of my noble friend Lord Caradon when he was British Ambassador at the United Nations in introducing Resolution No. 242, we might have groped forward much more swiftly than we have done in trying to find peace in the Middle East. That is why I must now say to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and to my noble friend Lord Cledwyn, on each Front Bench, that if they were not quite sure what my noble friend Lord Caradon said at the United Nations, I hope that they have listened to him today. If no action is taken on his suggestions, and the suggestions of some other noble Lords, by the noble Baroness and by my noble friend Lord Cledwyn, we should never have started the debate in the first place; it will have been a complete waste of time.
I am told by young Israelis coming here how appalled they are by the racialism that is occurring in Israel where Arabs are third-rate citizens, where they have no national insurance, no health insurance, nothing whatever. We also have to consider, as my noble friend Lord Kagan rightly said, the case of those who are imperilled by the activities of their extermists. It seems that the Middle East is almost a land of extremists. I should like to put to the House the most powerful argument that the Palestinians possess. It is this. If this country, this island of ours, had been successfully invaded by the Nazi forces, I know that under Winston Churchill, Ernie Bevin, Nye Bevan and a few others I would have gladly served as a terrorist. I would have been proud to do so. I am not going to say, however, that patriotism and love of one's country is to be found only in the breast of a Scotsman, a Welshman an Irishman and an Englishman but can in no way develop in the heart and bosom of a Palestinian. That is a form of intellectual treachery. We have to have the courage to acknowledge that. The Palestinians have lost 90 per cent. of their land. They are being used as cheap labour for Israeli industrialists.
It is acknowledged that the EC has tried in its Venice Declaration to find a solution to the massive paradox of the Middle East and the agonies that have occurred in Palestine and in the Lebanon. Do we not realise that our Chamber could be filled to its gorgeous roof with the corpses of men and women, Israelis and Arabs, who have been slaughtered in the appalling argument that is going on? If we were able to understand that someone dear to us, a child, a mother, a brother or a sister had been slaughtered in that chaos, we would arrive perhaps at the frontiers of understanding. We cannot wait for that. We must try to exert our great influence now. The noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, has said that we must appeal to Europe. That is a good thing. Like the Palestinians, the people of Europe know what it is to be invaded without a declaration of war. Like the Palestinians, Europeans know what it is to be hounded all over the place. It was worse if they were Jews, but even if they were not Jews, they were living under an occupying force that did not know the meaning of the word "compassion". It is right and proper, therefore, that they should do something to end this dreadful situation.
I am not at all happy that it can be done through the 347 European Economic Community. It has never done anything much of any use since it was established. I shall tell your Lordships what I believe to be a much better and more worthwhile organisation. If any noble Lord wants the absolute proof, I will provide it. A better contribution to bringing Europe together and to dealing with the realities of grim world situations has been made by the Council of Europe than in the case of anything done by the EC. I had the privilege of serving on the Council of Europe and also had the privilege of introducing, as chairman of its social services committee, the principle of reciprocity in the Health Service. It is something magnificent that this island has done. Of course, the father of it all was the great Aneurin Bevan. He was not killing anyone. He was not slaughtering anyone. He was not blowing anyone up. Yet he was daily attacked by the capitalist press of this nation, week in and week out. But he triumphed. He triumphed through his goodness. I believe that we should try to triumph with our goodness. If the EC is to make a reality of the Venice Declaration, it can be done only by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, urging this upon Sir Geoffrey Howe and the Prime Minister, and by my noble friend Lord Cledwyn saying that he will give them every support. In this way we can go to the EC and at the same time ask for the help of our colleagues serving on the Council of Europe.
It was in the Council of Europe—I beg your Lordships to listen to this—that we brought Israelis from Israel and Arabs and Palestinians from Arab countries to Europe and to the Council of Europe. For the first few days it was touch and go. I thought that we would see some of the incidents that I used to see when a couple of miners bumped into a couple of dockers at ten o'clock on a Saturday night in Swansea. There was the danger at one time of fisticuffs. In the end, however, there were talks and discussions. Those talks were held not in the EC but in the Council of Europe. There were proposals that were examined, but unfortunately a new outlook emerged and sanity was once again done away with.
I should like to mention, before sitting down, the courage, the sense, the intelligence and the bravery of Mr. Gerald Kaufman. He has examined this situation in great depth. He has reason to be concerned. He is no one's fall guy. No matter how many millions the Americans pour into Israel, he knows that this, in the long run, is not for the benefit of Israel but is to its detriment. All of us know that this American money is not poured in there to help Israel. It is because each American President is afraid that he will lose the Jewish vote. That is why it is poured in. And they do not mind how many Arabs are slaughtered and killed. This is what our Front Bench must tell the likes of President Reagan and some other senior Americans. We should set as our target, as Mr. Kaufman has urged in Europe, through the Council of Europe and the EC, to help Arab and Jew to escape from the hatred of their own creation and to realise what would be perhaps the most mighty paradox for them. It was in the Middle East that the greatest of the desiderata of mankind was enunciated in the declaration of peace on earth and goodwill towards men.
I believe that we, in Europe, have enough experience to show this and to make our voice heard, to bring 348 about peace, to stop the slaughter and not necessarily to take sides, but where one side is behaving in an appalling manner to have the guts and the courage to stand up and say "What you are doing is wrong". There have been times when the Arabs have been wrong. More often it has been the Israelis who have behaved abominably. However, on both sides there are courageous people. There are wonderful Israeli people and wonderful Arab people who know that the way in which they are behaving will not guide them down the road for peace.
Let us through our own endeavours and, as a nation, through our membership of the EEC and our membership of the Council of Europe add our voice and our pressure to bring peace to that very troubled and dreadful part of the world where, as I have said, peace on earth and goodwill to mankind was first enunciated. It would be to the honour of our nation and, indeed, to the honour of mankind if we could make a contribution to the success of that endeavour.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Lord Gladwyn
My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, has once again drawn the attention of the House to what I can only describe as a running sore in the whole of international relations; namely, the terrible situation in the Middle East. Like the noble Earl, Lord Oxford, I should like to devote just one or two minutes to making a few general remarks before coming to any proposals.
The most depressing feature of the present situation in the Middle East is that we have now reached a total impasse. The Israelis, it seems, will not take part in any negotiations over Palestine in which the PLO, however disguised or indirectly represented, will take part; and the Arabs, of whatever persuasion, will only agree to negotiations if there is at least some semblance of PLO representation. Thus no progress can for the present be expected as regards any form of Palestinian settlement; and meanwhile Israeli occupation of the West Bank—for, as the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, has said, that is what the construction of ever more Jewish settlements amounts to—proceeds apace.
For their part the Americans, even during the first part of President Reagan's second term of office, are not prepared to put any form of pressure on their friends, who remain their chief—perhaps their only—ally in the Middle East. Indeed, they are actually stepping up their aid to the Israelis, whether military or economic, and that in spite of the fact that the Israelis show no inclination whatever to pursue the policy which the United States Administration strongly supports. That is a fact. Outside the West Bank, moreover, there still remain some millions of Palestinian refugees who absolutely refuse to be incorporated in the states to which they fled after being evicted from their homeland and are, therefore, presumably biding their time in the hope—desperate though that may well be—that one day events will result in the removal from over Israel of the United States umbrella.
The end of the entirely disastrous Israeli advance to Beirut and their evacuation of most of Southern Lebanon has, unfortunately, only exacerbated an already depressing situation. The Lebanese Christians—in principle the best friends of Israel in the 349 past—have as a result of this adventure suffered appalling losses, being largely driven from their homes and made to travel northwards. The Shia proletariat—hitherto a rather dormant element in Lebanon—has suddenly sprung to life in the shape of a passionate anti-Israeli "Jehad", or Holy War, thus seeming to constitute an enemy potentially even more formidable to the Israelis than the PLO, which anyway is now apparently split into at least two warring factions, some of which are now engaged in furious Beirut battles with the Shi'ite "Amal" supported by the Syrians.
Meanwhile, the position of the Israeli-Lebanese frontier remains most disturbing. The Israelis want, it seems, to institute some kind of buffer zone under their indirect control, but it is by no means clear what, in such circumstances, will be the continuing role of the United Nations forces—UNIFIL—in that area, some members of which, I believe, have already become casualties as a result of the total confusion surrounding them, from which only the revolutionary Shi'ites can possibly benefit. And all this time the general economic situation, notably in Israel, seems to be getting worse, which can only add to the general unease in the whole area.
On the positive side—and I suppose that one must always think that there is a positive side—I imagine that one can point, as I think my noble friend Lord Kennet pointed, to the at least tolerable relations between Israel and Egypt, without whose active support no concerted Arab action against Israel could possibly succeed; and, more generally, to the apparently rather cautious attitude of the Syrian Government—presumably the chief friend of the Soviet Union in the area—who do not seem to want to profit, at the moment at any rate, from the Israeli withdrawal by occupying even the southern part of the Bekaa Valley. It looks, too, as if the Syrians were doing their best to put an end to the fratricidal strife in Beirut itself, although, as the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, said, whether the Lebanon can ever now be reconstituted as a single viable entity is open to considerable doubt.
I suppose that one might add to the positive side the fact that at least the Iranians do not seem to be winning their war with Iraq, which would clearly have been a total disaster from the point of view of any general Western interest, and that there may even now be substantial signs of reaction against the murderous and fanatical regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Might we not also, if we want to be optimistic, suppose that the Russians will not be inclined, given their present difficulties with the other super power, to do anything to inflame the situation in the Middle East, still less to give rise to justified suspicions that they may be trying to advance their centuries-old desire to advance their empire to the warm waters of the Persian Gulf, as indicated in the famous exchange of views in 1940 between Mr. Molotov and Herr von Ribbentrop?
What, then, in all this distressing confusion, can Her Majesty's Government—and more significantly, perhaps, the European Community—actually do? Here I am afraid that we must have some regard for certain facts. We do, indeed, have two "sovereign bases" in Cyprus, but they are really only the 350 equivalent of look-out posts; and the French have a small force in Djibouti. I believe that, in addition, a frigate or two occasionally visits the Persian Gulf. However, apart from this pretty meagre military presence, the Europeans do not have much physical means of making their influence felt. I do not suppose, in any case, that the Israelis care very much what the Europeans do or say; and although we in the Community compete with each other in selling large quantities of arms to various Arab states, I doubt whether we are thus enabled to put any particular pressure on them, either. Whether we can put any pressure, as a Community, on the United States is another matter with which I shall deal in a moment.
Are we, then, depressingly enough, reduced to giving unheeded advice? We did that some five years ago, as so many noble Lords have said, in the Venice Declaration, to which nobody, I am afraid, paid very much attention. I do not think that it was our fault that they did not do so, but that was the result. I am afraid that they may not pay much more attention to any similar initiative now, although I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, that at least we ought to try to induce the Americans to have some regard now to the Venice Declaration and, indeed, perhaps to insist on the famous Reagan plan, which is something very much on the same lines as that put forward by ourselves.
Of course, if we were really willing and able to contribute substantially more to help the United States in what they consider to be their necessary effort to defend the Gulf against possible Soviet attack, we might have more success in advancing views on how best to handle not only the Israelis but the Saudis, the Iraqis, the Iranians, or even, conceivably, the Soviet Union itself. But at the moment, I fear, we are in no such position. Nor are we likely to be. Better, no doubt, to satisfy the Americans that we are doing more to strengthen the "conventional" defences of Western Europe, thus enabling them, in theory at least, to strengthen their own forces in the Middle East.
There is, however, one direction in which we might, as a Community, make our collective influence felt—and it would naturally have to be a collective initiative if it is to do any good. That lies in getting support in the Security Council of the United Nations for a real enlargement and reinforcement of the United Nations force, UNIFIL, in southern Lebanon, which is so urgently required. With due respect to what the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, said, in order for this to be accomplished there would have to be some kind of super-power agreement in the Security Council. In other words, both the Russians and the Americans, urged on no doubt by the European Community, would both have to agree on any such proposal. My impression is that the Russians, for their part, quite possibly might agree.
What is necessary, therefore, is for us to direct all our efforts as a Community to impressing on the United States the necessity to back up some initiative at an early date, and also to face the fact that if they are going to vote for any such proposal with the Russians they will have to meet, and overcome, the objections of the Israeli Government. If they are so disposed, I believe, with the noble Lords, Lord Caradon and Lord Kennet, that at least a beginning would be made to 351 solving an international situation which is becoming increasingly desperate and on which some advance must be made to solve it at the present time. For if some kind of reinforced United Nations authority was put up in this area to the north of the Israeli frontier—between that and the Lebanon—it might lead eventually to the much-sought-for agreement with the Syrians and for general international agreement on some long-term solution of the awful problems of the Middle East.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, I join with other noble Lords who have paid tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, both for his Motion and for the excellent speech with which he set the scene for our debate this evening. We are indebted to him. The continuing turmoil and conflict in the Middle East is deeply distressing and dangerous to world peace, as most speakers have pointed out. It is for that reason that we have our debates upon the situation there. Anything which poses a threat to peace is of immediate concern to us, and we have every right and, indeed, duty to debate it in this House and in the House of Commons. We also have historic links with the Middle East and, with many other countries, we are customers in the purchase of their oil.
Despite these interests, there is not a great deal that this country can do alone to resolve the almost intractable problems which bedevil the area, or to eradicate the underlying bitterness between Christian and Arab, between Arab and Israeli, and between Muslim and Muslim, to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon referred in his speech. But, as many noble Lords have said, all this should never deter us from making every effort to help and, with our friends, to seek new avenues towards a solution to one of the most difficult problems facing the world at this time.
Of course we recognise that whatever the Community proposes must be seen side by side with any initiatives taken by the United States, and I shall return to that in a moment, but certainly the Reagan initiative, to which the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, referred is important and significant in this context.
The Venice Declaration did not please everybody, but we should not forget the two principles on which it was based—namely:the right to existence and to security of all the states in the region [including Israel]"—and it is important to stress "including Israel", because anyone who knows the history of the area and knows the suffering of the Jewish people must be sensitive to the feeling of the Jewish people on this matter. Secondly,justice for all people, which implies the recognition of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people".The second part of the declaration caused some apprehension at the time, as noble Lords will recall. There was in fact another significant sentence in the declaration which read as follows,The Nine"—as they were at that time—noted the importance which they attach to the Euro-Arab dialogue at all levels and the need to develop the advisability of holding a meeting of the two sides at political level",352 as a contribution to,the development of co-operation and mutual understanding between Europe and the Arab world".I do not think that that has been followed up during the last five years as was intended. Perhaps the noble Baroness will comment on it. This is a point on which the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, had some doubts, but I recognise that the Community has in fact discussed the Middle East fairly regularly since the Venice meetings, and in the context of the noble Lord's Motion I think we should bear in mind what in fact the Community has been doing, or at least been saying. There were two statements in 1981; a further two in 1982. The one in June 1982 referred to,the practical possibilities available to Europe to make an effective contribution towards a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East".Again, in June 1983 they said:They remain convinced that a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East can only be secured on the basis of the principles which they have stated many times in the past"—that is, the principles of the Venice Declaration. The Community continued to express similar views in later meetings. These views are unexceptionable, there is nothing wrong with them, but unhappily they have not led to anywhere near a concrete solution to the problem thus far. This was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, and even more strongly by my noble friend Lord Caradon.
During this period there have of course been other initiatives, to which noble Lords have referred. The most serious in its consequences has been the phased withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon, which has triggered off the most appalling violence in the southern part of the country. I agree with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Caradon about the importance of the Security Council in all this, and of the United Nations generally. I believe that the Security Council debate at the end of February up to the beginning of March was of considerable importance.
What is interesting is that the United Kingdom abstained in the vote on the resolution sponsored by Lebanon. I have read the speech made by Mr. Maxey, Britain's deputy representative at the United Nations, and also a speech made by Mr. Richard Luce in the House of Commons on 14th March, but it might be helpful if the noble Baroness, when she winds up the debate, summarises the reasons for Britain's abstention on that crucial vote, as it has been suggested that we should have been more sympathetic, especially to the principles of the Motion moved by the Lebanese representative.
There are two other points on which the Minister may like to comment. The noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, spoke about the future of UNIFIL, whose mandate was extended by the Security Council for a further six months from April onwards. As time will pass quickly, do the Government see the possibility of a further extension and of participation by British forces in UNIFIL? Can we be told the Government's view on the talks between Israel and Lebanon on the withdrawal of Israeli forces? Is it not here on this very question of withdrawal and the vacuum—the most dangerous vacuum—which obviously has been left behind that the presence of UNIFIL becomes of great 353 significance in any resolution of the problem and in the search for stability in the area?
Other important developments include the alliance between the PLO and Jordan, the visits of Mr. Charles Murphy, the United States Under-Secretary, and especially the visit by Mr. Shultz, the Secretary of State, to the Middle East—the first visit he has made for a period of two years. And, of course, most important of all—a subject which has not been referred to a great deal in the debate—there are the projected United States-Soviet talks on the Middle East. These are not to be dismissed out of hand. The talks are of basic importance because we know that, if confidence and goodwill between the super-powers could be achieved, the conflicts in the region could be brought under control. But without their co-operation, without some understanding between the Soviet Union and the United States, the prospects become very bleak indeed.
The talks will give the first practical experience of Mr. Gorbachev's willingness and desire to achieve progress in dealing with the United States and with the West generally. Thus they are of the first importance. The Soviet influence in Syria, to which noble Lords have referred, and the United States influence in Israel are crucial in reaching a settlement. If the Soviet Union and the United States wanted to, they are capable of working for a solution to the Lebanese crisis and of bringing the Iran-Iraq war to an end. If they did, it would greatly increase their reputation with the rest of the world. The importance of this meeting between President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev, if it is properly prepared and accompanied by goodwill and an intention to succeed, cannot be overestimated. The immediate and urgent objective must be to help in making these talks a success.
To return to the noble Lord's Motion, this is probably where the Community has a rôle to play. We must not underestimate Europe's rôle. I think the United States now believes that a more active European Community rôle in the Middle East peace process could be valuable. We recall that the United States did not care very much for the second part of the Venice Declaration. But all that is now in the past and we must hope that the United States and the Community can work with a common purpose. Perhaps the noble Baroness can confirm that that is the position today.
The last meeting of Heads of Government in Brussels did not in fact give a particularly strong lead. It may be that the Heads of Government at that time were preoccupied with other important matters such as the accession of Spain and Portugal, but it was slightly disappointing that the Middle East was not given more serious attention.
The question is asked in these debates, and very properly asked: what can be done? What can we do? But, having started on this road in 1980, I believe that the Community has a duty to pursue its initiative as hard and as effectively as possible. There are great diplomatic skills in Europe. We frequently forget that. There is great political experience and great experience of the area in question in Europe. The countries of the Community should bring all these diplomatic skills to bear upon the United States, upon the Soviet Union 354 and in the Security Council as well to seek a solution to the problem. There is no gain, no advantage, either to the Soviet Union or to the United States in the continuation of war, suffering and destruction in the Middle East. The creation of stability there would be a boon to the Soviet Union, a boon to the United States and a boon to the rest of the world. I support the noble Lord's Motion and I hope that the noble Baroness can tell us that the Government are working hard with our Community partners to bring this about.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House is grateful to my noble friend Lord Chelwood for introducing this debate this afternoon. The need for a solution to the Arab-Israel dispute is in our view increasingly urgent. We share with our European partners a firm belief in the importance of encouraging early practical steps towards a settlement. The conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours has become one of the most lengthy and intractable disputes in the world today. I am sure that we all listened with great interest to what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon said on this matter and the observations that he made in this dispute. We also noted with interest the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Kagan.
The conflict has become one of the standard focuses of international diplomatic activity. It is a daily personal tragedy for the many thousands of people directly involved in its consequences: military occupation, rootless exile, deprivation of rights, physical conflict. It has repeatedly threatened, and continues to threaten, the right of all people in the region, Jews and Arabs, to the normal certainties of civilised existence, to live their lives in peace. For them it is no esoteric matter of the minutiae of peace plans but a question of their unsatisfied right to safety and security such as is enjoyed by every citizen in the United Kingdom. For our part, we must not allow familiarity to breed inertia.
The human suffering which this dispute has caused requires an urgent solution. There have been five wars between Israel and its neighbours in less than 40 years, each made more devasting than the last by the advances in the sophisticated technology of destruction. The dispute has had other equally serious consequences for the world at large. It has made the Middle East dangerously susceptible to tension and insecurity. Its poison has spread far beyond the few countries directly involved in the territorial dispute. It is a major threat to the stability of the whole region, a region with which we maintain close, traditional links of friendship and which is of vital economic and political importance for all Western countries. It has had important and well-known consequences for international economic stability but even more seriously it retains the potential to explode without warning into wider conflicts on a global scale. It is not a problem which we can responsibly regard as remote or inessential to our own national interests.
It is for this reason that the Government are fully committed to the continuing search for a just, peaceful, negotiated settlement; something to which I think every noble Lord who has taken part in this debate has referred to. I should like to make that statement very firmly.
355 It is our belief that only through a process of negotiation can a lasting peace be achieved and the rights of all the parties be safeguarded. We and our partners in the Ten believe that a settlement must tackle the fundamental questions at issue in the dispute. For this reason we are convinced that it must be based on two central principles, as we and our partners have repeatedly stated in the Venice Declaration, and in later statements of our position.
The noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, asked a question on the Government's view on the Venice Declaration. I hope that I make the Government's position absolutely plain. The declaration says that the first is Israel's right to exist behind internationally recognised and secure borders. There is no doubt of our commitment to Israel's security which is unwavering. The second, and no less imperative, principle is the satisfaction of Palestinian aspirations to self-determination. In our view this means that the Palestinians should be able to choose what attainable constitutional arrangements they can willingly accept. How the Palestinians should achieve their aims is a matter for them to settle through negotiation; but if the eventual settlement is to be just and effective, their rights must in one way or another be achieved. It is not for outsiders to decide who should represent the Palestinians in the negotiating process. But whoever these representatives are, they must accept the need to achieve a peaceful settlement which safeguards the two basic principles that I have mentioned and must renounce unequivocally the use of violence. I hope that that reassures those noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Chelwood, on our view on this Venice Declaration.
However, many noble Lords have asked what more we can do. There are many ways in which progress towards peace might be achieved. I would not wish to lay down hard and fast rules. The history of the dispute urges a healthy mistrust of blue-prints of solutions to be imposed by outsiders. But that said, we should not seek to opt out; the role which the United Kingdom can play in co-operation with our Community partners is an important one. We wish to help, not interfere; support, not cut across. We have a responsibility and an interest to be active as a force for moderation, assisting the various parties and encouraging flexibility and practical moves. We can assist at a later stage in providing guarantees as we already do in Sinai. But we must also be realistic and recognise the very real limitations of our own ability to determine the course of events. It is for this reason that I would emphasise that the prime need is for action by parties directly involved in the dispute. Nothing can substitute satisfactorily for this. We therefore attach particular significance to recent signs from within the region of growing realism and moderation, of a readiness for peace and a corresponding commitment to work towards an overall solution by negotiation. These are welcome developments.
I think in particular of the agreement on joint action concluded between the King of Jordan and the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation on 11th February, which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Chelwood. This is a highly significant step, which contains important and constructive new elements. It deserves the full support of the 356 international community. Essentially, it represents a commitment by the Palestinians to go forward in collaboration with the Jordanians towards a process of peaceful negotiation. It envisages ultimately the exchange of territory for peace, with Palestinians and Jordanians living in a confederate state which would include territory at present under Israeli occupation. Much has been said in the Arab world about this agreement: it has not received as much explicit endorsement as King Hussein would like. But it has been welcomed by a wide cross-section of Palestinians both within the Occupied Territories and outside. Their opinion should be given particular importance. In our view the agreement is a basis for the start of a substantive dialogue. This requires the active support of all the parties. It is all too easy for outsiders to criticise, when what is needed is encouragement and backing for those willing to make a bold move.
We have welcomed the practical and procedural suggestions put forward by President Mubarak of Egypt as to how negotiations might be set in train. We have also noted the positive Israeli response to some of his ideas. We regard it as particularly encouraging and important that there should be this continuing discussion. Unless the search for peace is regarded as a dynamic process, there is a danger that the positions of the various parties become rigid and inflexible. This in turn induces despair which provides a fertile breeding ground for extremism and violence. A cycle of violence and retaliation is easily started, but difficult to break. Let us be in no doubt that unless the international community makes the most of the new opportunity presented by King Hussein's courageous move the consequences of failure will be prolonged suffering for those most directly affected, continuing instability and damage to our interests and those of our friends and allies.
In our own diplomatic activity we must take account of the key role which the United States has to play in assisting the parties. This, I think, was a point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, and the noble Lords, Lord Mayhew and Lord Kennet. The uniquely close contacts which the Americans have with the main parties to the dispute give them a particular responsibility. We maintain a close and high level dialogue with the United States Administration about these matters. President Reagan has made clear that he accepts the special nature of United States responsibilities. He has acknowledged that the time is ripe for fresh efforts and the Americans have been active in recent weeks. The United States Assistant Secretary of State, Richard Murphy, made in April a two-week tour of the countries most involved. This was an effort to explore various possibilities for progress arising from recent Arab initiatives. Mr. Shultz has taken this a stage further during his own visits to Israel, Jordan and Egypt. King Hussein is due in the United States later this week. We and our European partners continue to attach great importance to our contacts with our American friends. They are fully aware of our views on the need for United States participation to further favourable developments, and share our objective.
We maintain a constructive dialogue with the principal parties to the dispute. We have regular talks with King Hussein, a frequent visitor to London, who 357 is here this week, and my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will be seeing him tomorrow. President Mubarak paid a successful visit here in February. My right honourable and learned friend visited Israel in October. We look forward to welcoming the Israeli Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister, Mr. Shamir, to London on an official visit on 3rd and 4th June. We value highly these full and friendly exchanges.
We also maintain close contacts in the Occupied Territories and are fully aware of the problems of those whose lives are directly affected by Israeli occupation. We value the links which we maintain with leading Palestinian representatives from the West Bank and Gaza. The Israelis are well aware of our profound concern at the difficulties under which they live. We have welcomed the commitment of Prime Minister Peres to improve conditions in the Occupied Territories. We look to the Israelis to translate this urgently into substantive changes which would create confidence among the Arab neighbours of Israel's intentions. Nothing would do so more effectively than a decision by Israel to freeze her policy of establishing settlements in the territories, which we regard as illegal. That would demonstrate that Israel does not intend to prejudge the outcome of negotiations.
On a practical level, we have substantially increased our own modest aid programme. This concentrates on improving the medical and educational facilities available to ordinary Palestinians. We make a major contribution to the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, both nationally and as part of a contribution by the European Community.
Time presses very hard. May I say one word on Lebanon because several noble Lords have referred to the continuation of the appalling violence there. We have every sympathy with the long-suffering population and are pleased that the Israeli Government have announced the imminent completion of the withdrawal of their forces from Lebanese territory. We hope that this will make a major contribution to the cycle of violence and retaliation that we have witnessed. We continue to believe that UNIFIL still has a role to play in the restoration of stability in Southern Lebanon and therefore regret that Israel and Lebanon were unable to agree on the co-ordination of security arrangements for the border area which could have given UNIFIL a wider mandate. It is all the more important for stability that Israel should not maintain any residual presence on the Lebanese side of the frontier. That would be inconsistent with United Nations resolutions and an unacceptable infringement of Lebanese sovereignty and, by provoking retaliation, increase regional tension. What is needed is a period of calm in which all the Lebanese communities can concentrate their energies with renewed vigour on the vital task of learning to live and work together in peace to restore the shattered unity of their country.
I have been asked many questions. May I respond first to my noble friend Lord Chelwood who asked why Israel is given favours by the Community when still occupying Arab territory. I should say that the Community maintains with Israel, as with all 358 Mediterranean states except Albania and Libya, agreements allowing for mutually beneficial exchanges of trade. The prime requirement for a solution to the Arab-Israel dispute is the political will to move towards a settlement. May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, that the right time for an international conference could make a major contribution to a negotiated solution to the Arab-Israel problem and the Security Council might also need to be involved as, for example, in the provision of guarantees for a settlement. The United Nations has a vital role in the provision of peace-keeping forces but at present the two sides remain deeply divided on fundamental points and it is difficult to see an international conference leading to a constructive negotiation.
May I conclude by saying that we and our Community partners are actively engaged in the search for ways forward. We maintain close contact with the leaders of the parties to the dispute, and in doing so we seek to support the favourable developments which have recently occurred in the region. We would not give the impression that action by outsiders can substitute for moves by the parties directly involved. There is an urgent need for the parties to engage fully in a process leading to direct negotiations.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, can she explain the qualification she attached when giving the assurance that the Government still support self-determination for the Palestinians? I believe she said that that meant the Palestinians had the right to choose whatever constitutional arrangements were available, whereas I would have expected her to say that they could choose whatever constitutional arrangements they wished.
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, that is indeed what I said. I said they should be able to choose what attainable constitutional arrangements they could willingly accept.
My Lords, we have had a good debate. It has certainly been a very well-informed one, and naturally I wish to thank all noble Lords and the right reverend Prelate for being good enough to take part in it. I do not think it is very often that in a short debate noble Lords from the Conservative, Labour, Social Democrat and Liberal Benches, the Cross-Benches and the Bishops' Benches all take part; but that is what has happened today and there has on the whole been a remarkable consensus of view which I have found very encouraging.
I am also very encouraged to have had it confirmed that Mr. Shultz has just completed, as we have read in the newspapers, his Middle East tour, his first tour of the Middle East for a couple of years. I hark back to the evidence of Mr. Shultz given under cross-examination in front of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate when he made it absolutely clear that he strongly favoured an initiative in the Middle East and that—here I use my own words—he wanted to get off the Kissinger hook. Noble Lords, I am sure, will know what I am talking about; in other words, talking to the Palestinians is an absolutely essential feature of finding a satisfactory answer.
359 I also find it very encouraging, as I am sure we all do, that King Hussein is meeting the Foreign Secretary tomorrow and will be meeting President Reagan next week. So perhaps the timing of this debate, through a little bit of good luck, was just about right and we have quite good reasons for being fairly optimistic.
I should also like particularly to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for her very encouraging speech. She did not in fact have time to answer two or three questions which I put to her. They were not very easy ones and of course I would not expect her to give answers to them off the cuff, but if she will be good enough to write to me about them, I shall very much appreciate it. I said just now—and I repeat it—that it is hard to be optimistic, but I think we must be. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.