§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will promote an international conference on the conflict in Palestine.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I ask this Unstarred Question in no spirit of criticism of the Government. Indeed, except in one respect, they deserve credit for their current policies on Palestine. Ministers are assiduously canvassing for an international conference and for the other three essential elements of a peaceful settlement—namely, security for Israel, self-determination for the Palestinians in the occupied territories and the participation of the PLO in the peace negotiations. 754 Moreover, Mr. David Mellor and other Ministers have expressed publicly, with evident sincerity, their repugnance to the methods used by the Israelis in the occupied territories. On all these points the Government are at one with the other governments of the European Community, with virtually all the members of the United Nations and, I believe, with the opposition parties in this country. I suspect that there is more common ground today between the parties on Palestine than ever before, and that is most welcome.
§ What is difficult to defend is the Government's ambivalent attitude towards the PLO. On the one hand, Ministers correctly assert its right to participate in peace negotiations and they rightly deny that it can be described as a terrorist organisation. On the other hand, Ministers continue to refuse to talk to the PLO unless and until it unilaterally recognises Israel and unilaterally renounces violence. If Israel and the Palestinians both recognised each other and jointly renounced violence, that would be a huge step forward. However, that is not the Government's position. They are insisting on conditions from the PLO, conditions on which they are not insisting in the case of Israel.
§ However terrorism is defined, a head count of the victims shows that the four men with the worst terrorist records in the Middle East are Gaddafi, Abu Nidal, Begin and Shamir. All terrorist acts are to be utterly condemned, whoever perpetrates them. This includes, if the reports are true, which they may not be, this week's outrage in the Negev. But compared with these four men Arafat and the PLO are not in the same league. If Ministers are ready, as they have been, to receive Mr. Shamir at No. 10, they ought to be ready to talk to the PLO in the interests of reaching a settlement. The PLO is an essential element in the search for a settlement and by refusing to talk to it Ministers are weakening the contribution that they can make to peace.
§ The same is true of Mr. Shultz. We must hope that, despite his ostracism of the PLO, his initiative will have positive results. However, the prospects seem very unpromising. Israel rejects the idea of an international conference, rejects the idea of any withdrawal from the occupied territories and rejects any contact with the PLO. Nor are there any signs at present that the United States is ready to require Israel to compromise, as it could easily do. Therefore it is of the utmost importance for the British Government and the European Community to use all their influence with Israel and the United States to persuade them that failure to compromise at this time would end in disaster for Israel itself.
§ The Israelis put forward two objections to withdrawal from the occupied territories. The first, an objection put forward by only a minority, is that Judea and Samaria were promised by Jehovah to Abraham. It is possible to hold Judaism in the greatest respect without finding this a credible justification for Israeli rule in the occupied territories, especially if, as Palestinians are fond of arguing, conversions to and from Judaism over the centuries mean that today a Palestinian Arab is as likely as an Israeli settler to be descended from the Jews of 755 Biblical times. The more important objection, widely held in Israel, is that a Palestinian state would undermine Israel's security.
§ Let us consider the possible military threat to Israel from such a state. A glance at the map shows that the new state will be embraced on three sides by Israel, that its one airstrip will be within artillery range of the Israeli army, that its one small port in Gaza will be at the mercy of the Israeli navy and that its two mountainous roads linking it with Jordan could be destroyed in five minutes by the Israel air force. Even if this state was not demilitarised, as is very likely in a settlement, and even if there was no neutral zone between the two countries manned by an international peacekeeping force, which again is a likely outcome of a settlement, the new Palestinian state would be a military hostage rather than a military threat to the state of Israel.
§ The last time I was in Israel I established that the chiefs of staff have made no appreciation of the possible military threat of a Palestinian state to Israel. The reason is obvious: there is no such threat. However, the Israelis go on to argue that the new state might ally itself with Syria, Jordan or Egypt for an attack on Israel. But if the oppression of the Palestinians is ended, Arab support for an attack on Israel would be lessened and not increased. Equally, the Palestinians themselves, having shaken off Israeli rule and established their new state—which inevitably would be vulnerable to economic and military reprisals—would be less and not more inclined to start a war or to launch guerrilla or terrorist attacks on Israel.
§ No state can ever enjoy perfect security, least of all perhaps a specifically Jewish one implanted in the heart of the Arab world by force at the expense of the native inhabitants. However, if Israel were to change course and to come to an international conference to negotiate a settlement on the lines suggested, for example, by the European Community and the United Nations, she would stand a fair chance of achieving security and surviving in peace.
§ On the other hand, what are her chances of survival otherwise? Certainly Israel is still dominant militarily in the region. She still has an effective alliance with the United States. However, year by year the balance of power, financial, economic, diplomatic, demographic and even military, is slowly swinging against Israel.
§ Demography presents a particular threat to the survival of Israel. The great majority of Jewish people do not want to live in Israel. Many Israelis want to leave and are doing so in increasing numbers. The birth rates of Jews and Arabs in Palestine are different. If Israel does not change course there is a serious long-term threat of a new exodus which would undermine the viability of the state. In addition, there are increasing numbers of Jewish people inside and outside Israel who now publicly criticise the Israeli occupation, demanding that land should be traded for peace. They are showing the moral courage and the independence of mind, together with a hatred of oppression of all kinds, which the world rightly associates with Jewish people.756
§ One thinks of the recent brave stand on principle of Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, Mr. Kaufman. Not the least achievement of all those people is to have convinced the Arabs that their adversary is not the Jewish people but the Israeli Government and their supporters; it is not Judaism but a debased form of Zionism. In the years ahead this could prove to have been a vital service to the Jewish people. I wish that more Jewish people would follow their example. Sadly there are many who speak out passionately and well against crimes committed by non-Jews against Jews but who when crimes are committed by Jews against non-Jews remain shamefully silent.
§ I think that all noble Lords recognise the limitations on British power in the region. As a member of the European Community we can play an important part in persuading Israel and the United States that withdrawal from the occupied territories is in Israel's own vital interests. Forty years ago Israel began, and has since continued, to try to establish itself in the Middle East by the ruthless use of military power and by attempts to repress the Palestinian and neighbouring people. At one time or another Israel has bombed Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, Tunis, Amman and Beirut. It has especially inflicted terrible suffering on the Lebanese people by invading and bombarding them and still in the south subjecting them to ruthless military intervention. That policy of expansion and repression has failed. Israel is now less respected and less secure than it was before. I urge that the Israeli Government now take the advice of their own Jewish critics, change course, trade land for peace and find security in the only way that it can be found—by giving justice and freedom to the Palestinian people.
§ 7.5 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, has I think done us a good turn this evening by putting down this Unstarred Question at this critical and delicate time. I shall not dwell on events in Gaza and on the occupied West Bank, save to say that the Palestinian INTAFABA has alerted worldwide opinion to the urgent need to find a lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli dispute. Strangely, Israel's operation which they call "Peace in Galilee"—which achieved none of its objects—did not have the same effect in spite of the awful casualties (at least 15,000 people were killed) which resulted from it. I shall not dwell on that aspect, either.
I want to look forward and not back to the Balfour declaration, Suez, the 1967 war, and the partition of Palestine, because all those, and other things, are water under the Allenby bridge. Since 1945 I have consistently expressed my views that Palestinian rights were being endangered and might be extinguished. That opinion has led to my receiving a good deal of abuse, both verbal and written; it has been very unpleasant—but perhaps my skin is too thin. The question that I have asked myself consistently is this: where do British interests lie and how can one be even-handed between Jews and Arab? I should like to strike a personal note here. My Jewish mother, the daughter of Henry Simon 757 (well known in Manchester) often gave me excellent and balanced advice, as, indeed, did my uncle Ernest who was well known to many of your Lordships as Lord Simon of Wythenshawe. We frequently discussed those issues from the time when I first went to Palestine as a young soldier in 1938. The essence of their advice—and of many other Jewish friends of mine—was that peace in Palestine could never be achieved by force or repression. I believe that that assertion is as true now as it was then.
I think that Eretz Israel and Palestinian rights are incompatible, and I am sorry to have to say that. However, I sincerely believe that Israelis, within their 1967 armistice lines—because that is what they are—with their age-long experience of democracy world wide, could thrive and prosper beside a reborn Palestine. Despite what is happening today in Gaza, and in the occupied territories, the Palestinians and the Israelis now have the opportunity, if they will seize it, to practise:the art of living together in harmony".Those words were used in the dramatic maiden speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits —although in another context (col. 377 of Hansard for 4th March). I refuse to believe that Israeli security and Palestinian self-determination are mutually exclusive. That is how they were described to me by a very distinguished and senior representative of the Israeli Government the week before last. I refuse to believe it.
Therefore, where do we go from here? The European Community, with Britain in the lead, pointed the way in 1980 through the Venice Declaration. I thought the principles that were then laid down could not be criticised, and were entirely right. Unhappily, the follow-up to the declaration has been feeble, leaving aside only the Prime Minister's own brave initiative when she went to Amman, which, unfortunately, came to nothing. It did, however, prove certain points.
The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, spoke of the importance of the European Community playing a leading roll in finding a solution to the problem. I should like to see them playing a much more forceful role. I should also like to see this country in the lead because of our unrivalled experience in those parts of the world, in spite of all the mistakes that we have made. The United Nations created the problem that we are discussing this evening when Palestine was partitioned. I say that not because Palestine was partitioned, but because the partition was ill-thought out and unpoliced; it therefore led to the disaster that we now see. Why cannot the Security Council make a supreme effort to find the path to peace now? I am sure it exists. Is it not possible that the United Nations might take on the trusteeship of the West Bank and Gaza? That is a very difficult undertaking; but do not let us forget that UNWRA are on the spot and already have trusteeship for all the Palestinian refugees. Do not let us forget, either, the great success the UN have had in Cyprus since 1964, on the Golan Heights since 1974, and in Sinai after Israel's withdrawal. Admittedly, their efforts in South Lebanon have been a total failure; but the reasons for that are clearly understood and they lie at Israel's door.
758 Is it not possible that during the coming months and years work can be done in great detail on a blueprint for demilitarisation and policing after Israel's withdrawal behind the 1967 armistice lines so that Israel's genuine fears—and I accept that they are genuine—can be stilled? Is there any hope in trying to find an Austrian solution, as I call it, by which I mean writing into the Palestinian constitution non-alignment and a ceiling on forces? Had that not been done with Austria, the Soviet Union would still be occupied in the Soviet zone. Is that a possibility?
Lastly, I should like to turn to a few points in fairly quick succession and in telegraphese on some of the things which concern me and on some of the phraseology which has been used. We talk about autonomy. The autonomy of a state means the right of self-government, according to the dictionary. It can occasionally be qualified by political, local or administrative considerations. But the United States' policy, as expounded by Mr. Schulz, will go no further, according to The Economist—I think this is an accurate summary—than "semi-autonomous" Palestine in federation with Jordan. How can one have a semi-autonomous country in federation with another country? I do not begin to understand that. I say this without disrespect, but that sounds to me like some sort of gobbledegook.
On the subject of self-determination, surely the Palestinians have as much right to seek to regain their statehood as had, for example, the Polish Home Army during the war under General Bor-Komorovski or, for instance, as have now the Mujahadin in Afghanistan. I do not think that can be denied.
Having mentioned the PLO, I wish to make some criticisms of them. They always go for all or nothing. That is a dead end. They can only achieve their rights step by step. All too often the PLO trump their own aces. In spite of that, I do not believe that it is possible to short circuit the PLO. Too many efforts have been made to try to do just that.
On the same subject, I wish to see the Palestine National Council, and therefore the PLO, change the charter which denies Israel's right to exist by promising to strike out any such references to Israel immediately Israel recognises their right to self-determination. We are entitled to ask for that.
Turning to terrorism, is it not as wrong to label the whole PLO as terrorists, as has been done fairly often (the noble Lord, Lord Paget, is guilty of that, and may have some riposte to make), as it would have been to label the Haganah or even the Jewish Agency as terrorists because of the shocking things done by Irgun, Lehi and the Stern group? I say that bearing in mind the equally shocking things done by Abu Nidal and other minority groups which come roughly under the umbrella of the PLO, though I think their activities have never been condoned by Arafat.
Yet under this heading the PLO are asked to renounce terrorism and the Israeli Government are not. At the same time the PLO are asked to recognise the 1967 armistice lines before they can attend a conference, but Israel is not so asked. The PLO are asked to recognise Resolution 242, which incidentally Yasser Arafat did quite recently and I have the date 759 here. He has done so on several occasions. Why is there undue emphasis on that resolution which regards the Palestinians as refugees and which was specifically drafted, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, immediately after the 1967 war came to an end, requiring Israel's withdrawal? It had nothing to do with Palestinian rights and was not intended to have anything to do with them. None of this seems to me to be even-handed, which I suggested was the first important principle.
To conclude, I mention two glimpses of the obvious. First, the status quo is not sustainable. That has been said on both sides of the Atlantic and by many people whose opinions we must value. Secondly, the parties—as they are so frequently called from my own Front Bench—will not solve this problem on their own. I am certain that there is no chance of that at all. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, said that time is running out for Israel, and I agree with him. Their survival depends on their coming to terms with their Arab neighbours and coming to terms with themselves.
I should like to see a United Nations trusteeship of the West Bank and Gaza which would give a desperately needed breathing space of several years during which a series of conferences could be held and many working parties could get down to work to try to find the way to a comprehensive peace settlement under strict UN supervision. I fervently pray that that will happen.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Lord Glenamara
My Lords, during one of the recent demonstrations in Jerusalem a mullah was heard to shout through a loud-hailer from the steps of a mosque, "The Ayatollah demands a martyr a day". That remark is very revealing about the present troubles in Israel—not a series of spontaneous riots but a carefully organised and carefully sustained uprising, as three weeks ago President Reagan said was the case, based on information the Americans had from intelligence sources.
The uprising is organised from Moslem fundamentalist sources outside Israel, the same sources which hold most of the hostages and which are trying constantly to destabilise the moderate Arab governments in the Middle East. Is it not significant that in all this trouble criticism of Israel from the surrounding Arab countries has been extremely muted?
The uprising has been nurtured by the world's press and the media. The spectacular and sickening daily stone throwing, the throwing of Molotov Cocktails, the wielding of knives and guns, have been as manna from heaven for the 800 representatives of the world's press who are now in Israel. I am told there are more there than in any other country in the world. There are well authenticated examples of stone throwing actually being organised by the media to enable the cameras to get their pictures.
The uprising has presented young Israeli soldiers—they are not professional but 18-year-old conscripts—with a situation that they were never trained to handle, any more than our young soldiers 760 were trained to handle the situation into which they were put in Northern Ireland 20 years ago. The functions of the soldier and the policeman are quite different. Of course there have been excesses—terrible excesses—which we and everyone in Israel very much regret.
The International Federation of Human Rights in Paris recently carried out an investigation and published its report last week. Perhaps I may quote from the report:The Israel Defence Forces, responsible for maintaining order in the territories, did carry out acts of punishment, but those were departures from, and not part of, deliberate policy".It continued:The members of the delegation confirm that they did not find evidence of the use of dum dum bullets by the Israel Defence Forces, in contrast to the charges voiced by the British Labour leader, Neil Kinnock".When a kindly English lady visits Israel she is whisked off immediately to hospital to see tragic young Arabs who have been wounded. She would be less than human if she did not shed a tear and less than human if she did not see her own son in those boys there. But we are entitled to ask what they were doing when they got themselves wounded. They were throwing bricks through the windscreens of Israeli army jeeps; they were throwing Molotov cocktails; or they were wielding knives or guns. That is how they got wounded. Then perhaps the kindly English lady should go to the other hospital and see the 300 young Israeli soldiers who have been wounded, who are lying there and who also look like her son.
The image that the world press has fostered in recent weeks of savage, inhuman, ferocious Israelis against peace-loving, gentle Arabs is as far from reality as it could possibly be. Quite apart from the hundreds of acts of terrorism—the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, knows that there are hundreds of examples—by the PLO in Israel and abroad which, for example, in 1985 alone, caused 124 deaths, there are most appalling examples of the way in which Arab countries have dealt with dissent and riots in their territories. Let me quote one or two. A few years ago in the town of Hama there was a riot. The town was circled by the Syrians, who levelled it with artillery fire and killed 20,000 people. In 1980 the Syrians killed 5,000 people in the El Zatar refugee camp in Lebanon. In 1987 the Amal militia laid seige to Bourj-al-Barajneh and killed hundreds of people by bombardment and starvation. At the university of Yarmouk in Jordan, the Jordanian authorities killed eight students in putting down a minor riot. I could quote many other examples of the way in which the Arab countries deal with dissent in their territories. Of course, none of these was reported at any length in the world press. The press was not there; the cameras were not there.
Between the Atlantic coast of Morocco and the borders of India there is one democracy, the state of Israel—one country alone where the press is allowed to come and go as it pleases and photograph and report whatever it likes. But does Israel get any credit for this? Of course not. All that happens is that its democratic freedom is abused.
In the grossly distorted image being projected in the world today, there is, I believe, a clearly 761 discernible strand of anti-semitism. Anti-semitism in my opinion is the biggest blot there has ever been on Western civilisation. After centuries of persecution culminating in the holocaust, the Jewish people must have the added dimension of a secure homeland. I believe that the West must ensure that security.
Britain, of all the nations in the West, surely has a major responsibility for this commitment. We were responsible for the Balfour declaration. We were the mandatory power after the war. We were the people who walked out on the mandate and left Jews and Arabs to fight it out. The present impasse is the result of 40 years of Arab rejection of two nations, a concept that Israel has been prepared to accept ever since it was proposed by the United Nations in 1949.
The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, talked about land for peace. He forgets that Israel has offered land for peace. In 1956, in 1967 and in 1978 it traded land for peace with the Egyptians and concluded a peaceful settlement with them. The PLO, on the other hand, has consistently reaffirmed its position as "no peace, no negotiation, no recognition".
Displaced persons are always one of the saddest and most tragic consequences of war. In Europe after World War Two there were millions of displaced Poles, Germans, Czechs and others. Mercifully they are now all resettled. When we walked out on the mandate there was a vast number—approaching a million—of displaced Palestinians. The Arab states then set about creating another million displaced persons by expelling all Jews from their territory. The number of Jews displaced by the Arab countries was certainly as great as the number of Palestinians displaced after the war of liberation. All those Jews displaced from the Arab countries were quickly absorbed and resettled by Israel in spite of its limited resources and limited territory. The Arabs with their vast territory—one sees from a map of the Middle East that Saudi Arabia is as big as most of Europe —and their vast resources from oil could have settled the Palestinians refugees quite easily. But they choose not to do so.
The United Nations offered resettlement. Its offer was spurned. Since 1971 the United Nations, with Britain acquiescing, passed the most astonishing resolution. It has passed a resolution 17 times calling upon Israel to desist from rehousing the refugees and to leave them in squalor in the camps. The last time was 30th October last year. Britain voted for the resolution. It now includes the West Bank as well as Gaza.
Appalling though the squalor of the camp is, anyone who knows Cairo will be aware that it is not as bad as the slums of Cairo. That does not make it any better; but let us keep it in perspective. It is not as bad as a thousand Arab villages across the Arab world. In spite of the United Nations resolution, however, Israel, from its limited resources, has rehoused 10,000 refugees in nine separate residential projects. Of those 10,000, 70 per cent. were given land and allowed to have houses built according to their own preferences.
In addition, Israel has built an infrastructure in the area of the camps. It has started many new industries—carpet making, furniture making, floor 762 tile making and so on. It has created many new facilities and services, including universities, public buildings, mosques and clinics.
To hear the press accounts, one would think that Gaza was a slum from end to end. I wonder whether your Lordships are aware that some of the most opulent housing in the whole of the Mediterranean is in Gaza, some of it occupied by rich Saudis who are only too glad to live in the state of Israel. But a completely distorted view is given of Gaza. Why do not the media give a complete picture of the situation instead of this simplistic picture of goodies versus baddies, of Arabs versus Israelis? Their failure to do so simply hardens the intransigence on both sides and does not help to find a solution one little bit.
There is one point I want to make quite firmly because we must bear it in mind. Israel must restore order no matter what the cost—the tragic, unfortunate cost in loss of world esteem and goodwill. Bearing in mind the overthrow of the Shah's regime in Iran, which none of us thought was possible before it happened, by a mob inspired by religious fanaticism, Israel cannot allow the situation to get out of hand because Israel is unique in the world. It can never afford to lose. Israel is a one-chance country and it cannot afford to be beaten.
I do not often praise Her Majesty's present Government. Leaving aside the aberration of Mr. Mellor, I want to applaud them for the efforts they are making to get agreement on a Middle East conference. I know from a number of sources that they are making real efforts to get a conference under the auspices of the five members of the Security Council. But the Prime Minister knows, as we all know, that the major impediment to holding such a conference is Mr. Shamir.
I should like to ask that Mrs. Thatcher use her considerable influence to try to persuade her fellow Conservative prime ministers to show a bit of flexibility about this conference. I am sure she is doing that. I do not say this at all critically because I have applauded all that she is doing to try to get a conference. I also applaud Mr. Shultz for his efforts. His modest plan probably represents the maximum common ground among the maximum number of participants in the region. It certainly holds out the prospect of a short-term, even a medium-term solution, which, if the will is there, could lead to a long-term solution. I sincerely hope that it will do so.
§ 7.33 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, for his very revealing speech, with which I entirely sympathise. As your Lordships may know, I have spoken four or five times on this subject in the past four or five years; the last occasion was in a debate which I myself initiated in April last year. Noble Lords also know that I am sympathetic to the Arab cause, although of course not in any way opposed to the Jews themselves.
I shall not dwell on the press reports, the broadcasts and the television reports which we have had about the horrors in the part of the world we are talking about. They must be familiar to many noble 763 Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, who has just spoken, referred particularly to Gaza. I see the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, looking towards me: he knows a good deal about this subject also. I would only ask him to refer to the speech that I made in April 1987 about conditions in the Gaza Strip which have been described by many people. There are such horrible things as the deprivation of water rights for the Arabs in that area, torture and so on, with conditions in the hospitals which have been accurately described as quite appalling.
I do not want to go into the details of the horrors and persecutions, the tortures, stonings and so on because I think that is quite pointless. But there is growing evidence that the Israelis themselves are turning against their own regime. I can quote two examples of this from the Israeli Mirror. That is a paper which is produced in Israel and it is strongly critical of the Israeli Government. One of these reports describes an ex-brigadier calling on his soldiers to refuse army service. Another one which I think even more revealing is by an Israeli army doctor who said: "I never imagined Jews could do this". This is the story, it is quite brief:I am of European origin and I know what my parents suffered. Not even in my worst nightmares did I ever imagine that we, the Jews, would do to another people what the Germans did to us.I think that is a most revealing statement.We may not be building gas chambers and we have no organised extermination structure, but we are not very far from that. All those beatings and humiliations. They were sent to me"—these are the patients—wet and covered in mud and marks of beatings, blindfolded and with their hands tied. I saw signs of blows on their hands, legs, backs and sometimes heads. The soldiers have learned to administer dry beatings, that hurt a lot and leave marks, but do not cause damage…I saw two cases of swollen testicles but could not tell whether they were caused by blows or illness.I emphasise again that that is by an Israeli doctor.
Secondly I want to deal with the PLO, which has been referred to by most speakers so far. I remind your Lordships that, as has already been said, the PLO is by no means a wholly terrorist organisation, though I feel sure that the noble Lord, Lord Paget, will challenge me on this. Although the point was made previously I feel that I must make it again that the largest of these groups, Al-Fatah, is a most moderate group and that the PLO's own representative in London, Mr. Faisal Awaidha, has been consistently moderate and helpful in every way. We know of course that one of the most extreme terrorist groups is Abu Nidal, which has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. But I must emphasise that it is not typical of the group as a whole.
I should like to call to the notice of noble Lords something which has not been mentioned before and which I think is particularly important. That is Arafat's own peace plan. This peace plan was presented in Tunis at an international press conference two or three months ago. In this declaration, Arafat lists four stages. Stage one: transfer to the United Nations for a period of six months of the rule in the occupied territories; UN forces to be stationed on the Palestinian side of the border for an unlimited period, as long as the Israeli government wishes. Stage two: general elections to be 764 held in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Stage three: an international peace conference to be held, attended by all sides including the Israeli government and the PLO, the PLO taking part in an independent capacity. Stage four: the establishment of a Palestinian state, and also co-existence between the Palestinian state and the state of Israel for as long as the Israelis wish.
A great deal has been said on this very difficult and delicate issue over many years. I feel that there is nothing of any great substance that I can add. But I hope strongly that the Minister will continue to press Her Majesty's Government to do all they can to use their good offices to achieve this conference, which we all feel is of the utmost importance. I hope that the inclusion of the PLO will be one of the prime factors of the conference.
§ 7.40 p.m.
Lord Paget of Northampton
My Lords, I find this a rather curious debate because of the degree of naivety with which a world which is unknown to the participants in the debate is being described. The situation is so utterly unlike that when one gets over there. This conflict is represented as a great national uprising of a people trying to get their own country back. Curiously enough Palestine is a country that has belonged to a great many people. The only people to whom it has never belonged at any point is this Levantine—Arab is a false name for it—population. That population has never been there except upon the basis of being in somebody else's country.
When we go back, we find that the Philistines lived there. They were Achaean Greeks who were driven south and to the sea by the Dorians. Then we find it was Egypt. Then the Jews came over. There was a period under David and Ahab when Israel established an empire that reached from the Nile to the Orontes. Then came Assyria and Babylon who divided Palestine between them. Then came Persia. Then came the Greeks of Alexander and again for a short period the Jews under the Maccabees. Then came the Romans, the Byzantines and the Franks of the Crusades. Saladin was the only Arab who ever ruled and he certainly was no relation to the present Levantines.
Finally there came the Turks and the British. But the British rule was the most interesting because it came after the First World War. Our mandate was to provide a national home for the Jews. We did not do very much about providing a national home for the Jews. The Jews provided themselves with a national home. Basically they bought it. To a very high degree Palestine was bought by the Jews in deals with the Arabs carried out at the Hotel Georges V in Beirut. There was a room kept for the purpose.
Then we come to the post-war period. This is where the participation of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, becomes so interesting. The question then was the desperate search for a home by the victims of the holocaust. They passionately wanted to get into Israel. That really was a case of people looking for a home.
We had Ernie Bevin in charge. He was a tremendous man but he was certainly not without 765 blemish. His dominant force was hatred. He hated the employers: he had to put them down. He hated the Germans. I shall never forget one occasion when I had to go and see him when I was working with Victor Gollancz in trying to get some food to the Germans in that awful winter when they were down to 700 calories.
Ernie Bevin said to me, "Tell your friends in Germany to go and look at the concentration camps. That is all that interests me." He was a very very formidable person. But to him the Jews were the sweatshop masters in the East End against whom he had organised. One could never persuade him that the people who were ruling Palestine were very different from that. If at that period Ernie Bevin was our Batman, the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, was his Boy Robin. He was there when these awful things occurred. Ernie decided that we would end the mandate and that we would withdraw our defences and the army and leave four Arab armies, including the famous Arab Legion under the command of Glubb Pasha, in the region free to invade. It was Ernie's intention that Israel should be destroyed and smashed. We know what sort of mercy it would have received then.
In those circumstances, when the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, tells us that all he is saying about the need to compromise and to help the PLO armed terrorists is for the good of Israel could there be any man from whom Israel would be less inclined to take advice?
Then we come to the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood. I am sorry that he is not here for the moment. He came out with the to my mind quite terrifying suggestion that these areas where order must be kept should be handed over to the United Nations. Just look at the record of the United Nations here. There is the complaint of the damage that has been done. In 1971 the Israelis were building very substantially in Gaza at the rate of 12,000 yards of brickage a year. In that year and in every year since the United Nations has passed a resolution calling upon Israel to cease its housing efforts and to take effective steps immediately for the return of the refugees concerned to the camps from which they were removed. That is the body which it is suggested should act as trustee. The one thing that can be said about the United Nations is that if things are bad almost anywhere in the world one can rely upon the United Nations to make them worse.
The Arabs repeatedly condemn rehousing, apparently because they realise that reasonably contented people cannot be exploited for political ends. In the Gaza Strip the camps are administered by the United Nations, which is also responsible for the housing, the sewage system and other services there. We should not be sending for the very people who are responsible for what we are complaining about and putting them in charge. That is not a practical or a sensible idea.
The Arab nations have had all the facilities in the world to take in every one of the refugees. They had the money. They had the industry. They could have absorbed the whole lot of them. But they have kept them in Gaza and maintained them there as a 766 propaganda instrument. That is why they are there. They would not be there otherwise.
Now there is an Arab rising. Could anything be much more disgusting than to see how such a rising works? The fathers keep under pretty safe cover and the children are sent out to throw the stones. Anybody who comes along to the hospital is shown those wretched beaten children. What were they doing to get themselves beaten?
The important matter is order. I do not happen to agree with my noble friend in his call for a conference. I do not think that in such conditions a conference would be worth a damn. What we ought to do is to leave the job to the Israelis, who are the people who know the job, and we should get out of the way. But that job has to be done and order has to be restored. The system was working fairly well until a few months ago; now it has gone bad. But the job can be done if we get out of the way. The highly efficient Israeli army were not originally trained to deal with such matters. They are getting trained and we know that. The last thing we ought to do is to send people out to tell them how to do their job.
The Foreign Office sent out a minister who proceeded, in circumstances of violence, to dress down an Israeli army colonel who was in charge of the situation. Nothing can be more important than the prestige of an officer in charge; and to undermine the officer's prestige was wrong. If the colonel had told a sergeant to take the young man along, paste his bottom and send him away until he had learnt manners, he would have been entirely within his rights. I wish he had done that. It was disgraceful conduct.
The Israelis are highly able people and they can do the job if we will keep out of the way and not try to tell them that their real interest is to surrender a strip of land which runs the length of their country and another strip of land that pinches them to within 20 miles of the sea. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, said that it was to Israel's strategic advantage. It is not to Israel's strategic advantage to place the whole of its country within artillery range from three directions at the same time.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Lord Weidenfeld
My Lords, it was just a little over 50 years ago that the eminent Zionist leader, Dr. Weizmann, addressing a Royal Commission described the Jewish-Arab conflict as not so much one of right and wrong as of two rights and two wrongs. He added:And ours is much the smaller wrong".A moderate and fair-minded Arab might well have made a similar remark, though I do not know whether any such remark is on the record.
The prerequisite of peacemaking is even-handedness and compassionate understanding. I respect the consistent and staunch endorsement of Arab causes by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. But I cannot help feeling that the fair-minded even-handedness which is so often present when he speaks on other issues was missing from his speech. Of course we all deplore transgressions and repressive 767 acts of violence on the West Bank and in Gaza. But anyone who claims first-hand experience of one party's excesses should pause to ponder on the foul deeds of the other.
Have those who are so forceful in their attack on the Israeli authorities that try to restore order and protect human life ever been in a casualty ward where wounded Israeli soldiers, maimed civilians or mauled innocent bystanders languish? Have they paused to reflect that Israel has since its very inception been pleading for the razing of refugee camps and the reintegration of refugees? Have they thought that the Israelis are in the West Bank and Gaza simply because 20 years before King Hussein joined Nasser in his high-risk venture to smash the Jewish state—the state which on the morrow of the Six Day War asked for negotiations, only to be met by the famous "three nos of Khartoum": no recognition, no negotiation, no peace?
Today we are debating the need for an international peace conference. It is an old notion of mixed parentage and varied motivation. Mr. Brezhnev was the first to advocate such a format to allow the Soviet Union to re-enter the Middle East arena. For a long time the Americans saw little point in it. Presidents Nixon and Ford stonewalled the idea. But when President Carter seemed to warm to it, a wary President Sadat, who had only recently ejected the Russians from Egypt, was prompted—one might almost say stung—into flying to Jerusalem for his bilateral initiative.
King Hussein favours a conference under the United Nations Security Council umbrella, for he cannot afford to replicate the sweeping magnanimity of the late leader of Egypt. The King of Jordan does not have the sort of claims to support in the West Bank and Gaza without ambiguity that would allow him to make far-reaching concessions. He needs an international cover.
Europeans have favoured a wider conference for complex reasons—a nod to the Arabs, a wink to the Soviets and a traditional penchant for diplomatic congresses with echoes of Vienna, Berlin, Versailles and Geneva. Now that America is a latecomer to the idea, Mr. George Shultz's timetable is one of neckbreaking speed. Israel is divided to the point of making it an issue for a probable rush election, with Vice Premier Shimon Peres for and Premier Shamir against. World public opinion is understandably on Mr. Peres's side.
But before we succumb to the rather fashionable bias against the Israeli Premier, let us consider some of the pitfalls of an international conference which might abort. In doing so I am not defending or indeed quoting Mr. Shamir. I am calling on another witness—the distinguished former United States Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger. He can justly claim that his achievement, his technique and indeed his philosophy of negotiation in the Middle East changed belligerency into non-belligerency and disengagement, and ultimately led to the only peace treaty between Israel and an Arab neighbour—the Camp David Accord.
In a recent article in the Washington Post, Dr. Kissinger argues that peace comes piecemeal and not 768 necessarily through the fiat of an international conclave. Often step-by-step diplomacy and interim arrangements of a durable kind are preferable to contractual peace. He questions whether some of the procedural devices mooted by Mr. Shultz and Mr. Peres, and apparently condoned by King Hussein and President Mubarak, would stand up in the event; whether the Soviets, on the one hand, would be content with the role of fig leaf or umbrella and the Americans, on the other hand, would go through with their commitment to help the parties either to break through or break up but not to have a settlement imposed on them.
Above all Dr. Kissinger argues that if a conference is to come off the diplomatic groundwork before it opens has to be as thorough as possible. Indeed, unless the parties concerned sit down with a wide measure of tacit agreement the outcome is likely to be negative, which would have a demoralising effect. It would be far more destructive than if no conference had been summoned.
It cannot be stressed too strongly that it would be truly beneficial if Her Majesty's Government, either by themselves or in concert with their EC partners, were to play a prominent part in reassuring the parties that if a conference takes place it can succeed only if there is no whiff of a diktat from above and least of all a carefully stage-managed performance designed to put pressure on the Americans to put pressure on Israel. That country, after all, holds the disputed territories. That is one of the reasons why we should take trouble to appeal to both sides of the Israeli coalition.
Compassionate understanding of the Palestinian Arab case impies support for political self-expression, autonomy and possibly sovereignty. Compassionate understanding of Israel implies support for her need of iron-clad security, open borders, the breaking of the economic boycott and human ostracism. It also implies understanding of the broadest band of public opinion. After all, it was Mr. Begin who signed away the Sinai, including the Jewish settlements, in the grand tradition of General de Gaulle's withdrawal from Algeria.
I believe that a genuine will for peace on the part of her Arab neighbours would influence the broadest possible spectrum of Israeli opinion and allay the suspicions that the conference, as envisaged by some Russian and Arab spokesmen and possibly some European governments, might be a trap, a straitjacket or an invitation to a beheading.
Mr. Peres's eight-point programme for an international conference is on the record. It seems to me to contain some very positive suggestions. Negotiations to solve the Palestinian problem in all its aspects are to be conducted in three bilateral geographical committees: a Jordanian-Palestinian and Israeli delegation in one, a Syrian and Israeli delegation in another and a Lebanese and Israeli delegation in the third committee. A fourth multilateral committee would include all the delegations with the addition of Egypt. Whereas the bilateral committees would be engaged in solving the conflicts of the past, the fourth committee would deal with charting opportunities for the region's future.
769 It is here that Britain and Europe, as friendly bystanders, can be most effective in pledging as well as charting a future for the region that would bring it economic prosperity, social justice and the premium educational, health, technological and cultural offerings of our civilisation. If the people on the ground were to feel that at the other end of a long tunnel there was not just a paper peace, not just a set of hollow declarations but a tangible promise of prosperity it would be worth the risk, the sacrifice of deeply held ideals and the replacement of traditional tenets of faith with a fresh catechism of hope.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham
My Lords, many people, myself included, believe that Israel deceived the United Nations at the time of its admission to that body. Israel has never honoured the obligations clearly stated and agreed to by her at that time. I refer to General Assembly resolutions, and in particular Resolution 181, which concerns itself with the territory and boundaries of the Arab and Jewish states, the city of Jerusalem, the Holy Places, and minority rights; Resolution 194, which stipulated that all Palestinian refugees be repatriated; and the additional violation of Resolutions 181, 194 and 303 under which Jerusalem remained an international zone. Furthermore, in launching the wars of 1956, 1967 and 1982, Israel has continued to flout the principles of the UN charter and international law.
The state of Israel has argued from its birth that its Arab neighbours pose an intolerable threat to its security and boundaries and that those same neighbours wish to drive all Jews into the sea. This has since been exposed from within Israel as being so much Zionist propaganda. Jews and Arabs had lived for centuries in harmony long before the arrival of the first Zionist. However, some Zionists used that argument as an excuse for their own acts of terrorism against innocent civilians, including many British, during and up to the end of the period of the British mandate. We can all remember with horror the blowing up of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. No methods were deemed off limits by the Stern and Irgun gangs who were responsible for some of the most hideous atrocities ever committed. Organised terror, both physical and psychological, was used against the British and Arabs in an effort to get both to leave the country—the British to return home and the Arabs to go to any other country to which they could be pushed.
When we speak of the present unrest, the rioting and violence in the West Bank and Gaza, we conveniently overlook the fact that it did not begin last December. It began over 60 years ago, grew to a revolting crescendo in 1948–49 and has been a festering sore ever since. It has been responsible for engulfing the entire Middle East in instability. Responsibility for this situation must rest firmly with Great Britain, the architect of the Balfour Declaration of 1919, which created the mess in the first place, and with the United States for its systematic undermining of UN resolutions in support 770 of Israel and at the expense of the Palestinians. These unfortunate people have been the victims of Western duplicity for all that time. Is it any wonder that they are now united in their wish to throw off the yoke of oppression and occupation?
I wonder how many noble Lords from all sides of the House would have reacted differently. Would we all have sat down quietly and happily handed over our country to someone else simply because it suited politicians in a far-off land with an eye on their careers? Would we have acquiesced meekly or would we have resisted stoutly? Whenever invasion threatened the United Kingdom we responded as one. We put aside our differences and squarely faced our enemies, even though it meant making sacrifices in terms of lives lost and comfortable lifestyles compromised. We defended our basic human rights, our families, our land, our freedom and our democracy. We fought fiercely and only once did we lose. Not since the Normans have we been invaded and occupied, although we came very close to it in 1940.
The Palestinians have not been so lucky. They were invaded first in 1948, then in 1956 and yet again in 1967. All their land has either been taken from them by force or is under military occupation. Have they not a right to oppose this? Have they not the right to resort to any method to rid their homeland of the aggressor? In fact, is it not their duty to do so? Would it not have been our duty if the same had happened to us in 1940?
There have been many who have criticised the PLO as being a terrorist organisation—myself included. If we have any respect for the sanctity of human life, we must reject and abhor acts that take away the most basic human right of all, that of the right to life. But should we not remember that the PLO grew out of a desperate need to respond to gross acts of terrorism as practised by members of Jewish terrorist organisations against the Palestinian Arabs? How were Palestinians supposed to react? Were they not supposed to object to having their land taken away, their families and friends killed and maimed, to being deported or squashed into squalid refugee camps, to having their houses blown up or even to being massacred? Surely there is not one Member of this House who would have tolerated any of those acts had they happened to him.
What is the difference between our commandos in World War II entering a German town and planting a bomb designed to kill German civilians and Palestinians going into Jerusalem to do the same thing to Israeli citizens? There is no difference, yet we praise the first as an act of heroism and condemn the second as an act of terrorism. That is hypocrisy on a grand scale. Do we really have a monopoly on justice and morality?
Until recent television pictures began to give us hard evidence of the brutalities taking place we found it expedient to look the other way. Now we cannot ignore them. It is to our undying shame that it took television finally to force us to bear witness to the hideous reality that is the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the relentless persecution of the Palestinian Arabs.
771 To quote from the current issue of the New Statesman, the PLO:has for years put forth a moderated negotiating position, often with considerable clarity, and they have found no politically significant partner in either Israel or the United States".The noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, said that Yasser Arafat on several occasions has accepted UN Resolution 242. I am glad that he drew the attention of the House to that fact. However, that news was deliberately suppressed in the United States. What Yasser Arafat said on 14th January 1984 was:The PLO would recognise Israel's right to exist if it and the United States accept PLO participation in an international Middle East peace conference, based on all United Nations' resolutions including UN 242".The PLO is and has been ready for direct negotiations with Israel but has only met with US support for Israeli intransigence and a continual refusal by the United States to recognise that it is the recognised representative body of the Palestinian people. It would be interesting to discover just who the United States thinks represents the Palestinians. Apparently it would accept almost anyone except the Palestinians. The present round of US-led peace mission diplomacy is not aimed at obtaining a just solution to the Palestinian problem but rather at bringing a halt to the violence in an effort to save Israeli and Amercian faces from continued embarrassment. It is doomed to utter failure if it continues to deny full PLO participation.
The United States says that it is seeking a formula acceptable to Israel and Jordan. What about asking the Palestinians? They are the people who are trying to live in that country, which is their right, and whose country it was for centuries until 1948 when Israel was given some of it and 1967 when she took the rest by force. I have every sympathy with the victims of the horrendous holocaust. Indeed there is not to be found a more repulsive example of mass persecution and extermination. What I have no sympathy with at all is those same methods which were used by Hitler against the Jews in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s being used against the Palestinians today by the very people who ought to know better from their own bitter experiences. Two wrongs do not make a right.
The United States holds the key to the lock which could open the door to peace. So far it has been reluctant to turn that key. Time is running out. If the violence, oppression and brutality are allowed to continue, when the United States finally recovers its morality and dignity and goes to turn the key, the lock will have been changed and the key will no longer fit.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Lord Kagan
My Lords, I shall try to be brief and avoid repeating points already so well made by other noble Lords, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Glenamara and Lord Paget. I should like to ask just one question: are we not looking too narrowly at what is happening at the moment in Israel?
I have recently returned from Israel. There is positive evidence that the instigators of the present troubles are not the PLO but the fundamentalist Jihads. The situation is a creation of Khomeini. I believe that we are witnessing an attempt to reestablish 772 the fundamentalist Islamic empire which extended from the Caspian Sea to the Iberian peninsula. How did Khomeini rise to power? Was it not by taking exactly the same route that is now being taken in Israel. Women, young people and children are brought out into the streets in Tehran.
Certain criticisms of the Shah, which may have been justified, are highlighted. The world media aided and abetted Khomeini. All the sympathy was for Khomeini who was claiming to right the alleged excesses and tyrannies of the Shah. What defeated the Shah was the sympathy and support of the world media. Little did the press realise at that time that the Shah's injustices would be replaced by something far more horrendous and tyrannical. The methods worked.
The next attempt was on Iraq. The Russians now find that even they have problems in Azerbaijan with the Shi'ite fundamentalists. Israel is merely a rehearsal. The process can be repeated and if it can work in Israel it can work anywhere. One can certainly find injustices in Amman and try to de-stabilise the regime there; one can find injustices in Egypt and try to de-stabilise Cairo; one can go straight on from there. Apart from responding to an appeal for sympathy, is it not worth pondering whether this is a problem of the West versus a planned and hoped-for tyrannous dictatorship by the Islamic fundamentalist empire?
Why is the criticism about what is happening in Israel so muted in Cairo and Amman? Why did all the trouble start after the Amman meeting, which attempted to pave the way for a settlement? I should like to ask the Minister to consider whether there is a wider interest than our just assigning right and wrong. Incidentally, if I may return to the question of why there is so much reservation and anxiety in Israel about an international conference, the Israelis are very conscious of that other international conference which was called in the case of Czechoslovakia in 1938 when, in the interests of peace, the Czechs were advised and forced to trade land for stability. One should consider what happened to them.
It would be helpful if the media were to reflect not only on what they are doing but on the further consequences of their actions. My other points have been made so much better by previous speakers.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Lord Sandys
My Lords, I rise first to thank the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, for giving us this opportunity to discuss a matter of such very great concern, and also to support most strongly the observations of my noble friend Lord Chelwood. I set the context of my remarks in something that he mentioned: the Austrian peace treaty. I shall look about the Mediterranean basin for evidence—which most certainly exists—of diplomatic successes that have led to peace treaties and the resolution of very longstanding problems over the past 35 years. I realise that the Danube basin is a little further away than the Mediterranean but the noble Lord mentioned the Austrian peace treaty as a prime example. I should like to mention another, which is the diplomatic success at Trieste that was achieved in 773 1953 after a period of years. That again concerned an area closely constricted by mountains and sea. It is a very narrow corridor which was disputed for many years by Austria and Italy. The treaty represented a solution to the problem of a very important and much disputed territory.
Another area of concern for centuries has been the disputes between Greece and Turkey. Only a matter of weeks ago there was the spectacle of the conclusion to the preliminary phase of negotiations—the starting point of an accord of some description, the precise nature of which is a little unclear at this time, between the Prime Ministers of Greece and Turkey. Those are all matters for considerable optimism. I feel that the Question the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, has put before your Lordships this evening has seeds of optimism within it, although certain contributions this evening would perhaps make that seem difficult.
Perhaps I may join with my noble friend Lord Chelwood over the nub of his principal argument: there should be trusteeship in the West Bank and in Gaza. He quoted the most important statement of the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits,the art of living together in harmony".That is what the principal substance of peacemaking is about.
The Venice Declaration was the subject of the debate held in your Lordships' House, introduced by my noble friend Lord Chelwood on 22nd May 1985. On re-reading that debate, I was particularly struck by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos. He reminded your Lordships of the exact terms of the Venice Declaration. I most warmly commend once again to noble Lords one phrase that he used. It is the statement from the Venice Declaration that justice for all people implies the recognition of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. I may be accused of taking this out of the general ambit of the Venice Declaration. Nevertheless, it is part of that statement and it is one that should be commended in general terms.
Reference has been made in considerable detail to both the West Bank and Gaza. I should like to take up the points on Gaza raised by the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara. Once again, we should bear in mind that in Gaza there are in general terms over 700,000 Arabs and about 3,500 Israelis. I do not know whether the noble Lord would agree with those figures, but I am speaking in general terms. The Israelis now own about one-third of the land—and approximately that encompassed by the best survey that we know at the present time. If one considers therefore the question of the Venice Declaration, it is incumbent upon those who feel that the situation in Gaza should be examined to consider that justice for all people implies justice for the Palestinians in that territory.
I turn now to the Government's preparation for this conference. I feel that all the efforts that the Government have made for a step-by-step approach are most welcome, and perhaps even more so if it is behind closed doors. There are so many cases where diplomacy in that area can achieve more without the blaze of publicity. However, it was very welcome indeed to hear from the noble Lord, Lord 774 Glenarthur, yesterday of the trouble that the Government have taken to increase their grant to UNRWA. That was announced yesterday in reply to a Starred Question in your Lordships' House. It is an increase to £5.25 million for the year 1988, and a further £5 million towards the European Community contribution. All this is most welcome, and it assists in the general ambit of interest and care that the Government are putting behind the European Community's initiative and the general care that they have towards the Palestinian problem.
I have said that I join with my noble friend Lord Chelwood over the concept of trusteeship. I do so for a very particular reason. I believe that this country, having held the mandate responsibility from the inception of the League of Nations up until 1948, has a particular fund of knowledge which may be drawn upon. It may well be said that anything that took place prior to 1948 is irrelevant. Nevertheless, in the archives in Whitehall there will be found Cmnd. Paper 6019, which was the Government's White Paper of May 1939. It was very significant because it expressed the desire to see established ultimately an independent Palestine state separated from the national Jewish home.
In this step-by-step approach for a conference, I am quite sure that the Government will examine all the past models, and all the past maps and proposals made over a very long period by extremely experienced administrators. Each one had limitations. Each one had drawbacks and each one now can be claimed to be irrelevant. Nevertheless, in examining those White Papers, and in examining models of this very restricted area, there must be points to be raised and taken on board.
I close with the view expressed by the European Community five years ago in 1983. This is again a statement that is very well known to your Lordships. The EC remains 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 so many times in the past.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, like previous speakers, I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, for giving us a further opportunity to debate the almost frightening subject of the Middle East. I find it particularly poignant. I was one of those who, in 1936, with the TUC contingent from Wales, marched to London. I had never been there in my life. I got to know Gardiner's Corner, Whitechapel Road, Commercial Road and all the streets where Jewish people lived and where the Fascist movement was out to disrupt. We did our best to foil that, to stop it. Within four years, Europe was threatened by Nazism and this nation stood alone. If we had surrendered and given in, the holocaust that followed would have been a thousand times worse. I believe that Great Britain's great role should be put on the record.
I remember also spending some time in the East End. I was reading geography and the German language. As an extramural student in the University of Wales I stayed here for two or three months. It was 775 pointless to go home. There was no work. The docks and the pits were closed; most of us were on the dole. During that period I learned to speak a great deal of Yiddish. I began to understand the difference between a separdime and an ashkenazi. I could understand those issues. I hope that it will be understood when I say that my country stood alone. It gave a massive contribution to anyone who believed in freedom and was opposed to any form of terrorism. However, I also happen to believe that, just like the Palestinians, just like those on the West Bank, just like those in the Gaza Strip who have resisted another nation occupying their land, we in this country would have resisted any Nazi occupation. We might not have been PLO, but I am convinced that we would have been a British Liberation Organisation, led no doubt by people like Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin. I firmly believe that this would have been the role at that time.
It seems to me that mankind will never understand this issue. It arises in Northern Ireland and the Middle East. One of the most terrifying aspects of all political activity is the territorial dimension. When you occupy and steal—I repeat, steal—somebody else's homeland, you are asking for trouble. I am totally convinced that, whatever it may be doing in some respects that is distasteful, the PLO has the same determination in its guts and its heart as we would have had had the Nazis invaded and occupied this country. I should have been very proud to have been a member of the BLO. Therefore, I think that has to be taken into consideration.
When the war was over, we were told of the most appalling crimes in mankind's history—the holocaust and the shudders, the horrors and the terrors, it caused. Anger rose in all our breasts. There was total confusion when our British soldiers were slain by the Irgun Zwei Leumi, and they, too, have a right to be honoured and mentioned. I am doing that right now because I think they were quite innocent lads. They were doing their duty. They were certainly not anti-semitic. But they suffered and were slain by the Irgun Zwei Leumi.
One of the most disturbing features of the whole situation is that it might not have arisen had only the tremendous co-operation and brilliant thinking of Mrs. Golda Meir and King Abdullah become a reality. I believe that would have contributed towards bringing lasting peace between the semitic nations. If one is anti-semitic one is anti-Arab as well, as I understand it.
When Golda Meir and King Abdullah arrived at their conclusions, it seemed to me, and to people much more clear than I who were interested in Middle East progress, that here was a way forward that would be of great help and assistance. Unfortunately King Abdullah was assassinated and things went from bad to worse.
The major issues in this debate have already been raised. It would be boring and upsetting to go over them all again. Late in the debate there is not a great deal more to say. I shall, however, mention one frontier that we all have to endeavour to arrive at. In the words of Aneurin Bevan, the trouble with all 776 mankind is that we seldom arrive at the frontiers of undertanding until our own souls are smitten with grief. The hearts of those Jewish people who were in Europe at the time of the haolcaust, who lost people but who survived themselves, were stricken with grief just as much as a Palestinian mother or an Israeli mother, and just as much as a British mother when her son was killed by the Irgun Zwei Leumi. We have to put all these things together, for if we do not we shall never arrive at the frontiers of understanding.
I believe therefore that there is enough goodwill if we can only find it and bring it together. That is why I believe that an international conference is so sane. The words of Churchill are still as appropriate today as when he first uttered them against killing, slaying and maiming. Let us have jaw, jaw which is far better than war, war. If we have an international commitment, it must be gathering together people of different nations. The proposal submitted by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and supported on all sides of the House, has at least a modicum of possibility. The coming of peace may be a long way off, but I believe that there is a chance if we stop talking and acknowledge that if someone stole somebody else's land 10,000 years ago they are still thieves.
I remember the problems in the United States of America. I am not anti-American. My grandchildren were born and bred American. I have one little, brilliant granddaughter who may well be the first woman American President. But there was a terrible time when we were fighting the Fascists. Terrible things were happening in the United States of America. In some parts of the deep South in the mid 1930s it was not particularly safe to have a different skin pigmentation from a white man. It was not particularly easy to live in some parts of the Mid-West if one belonged to some kind of Indian tribe. This form of racial hatred has gone on and on.
The tragedy is that if the Anglo-Saxons could not agree on one thing or another, or the Europeans, surely the great semitic nations can find an answer to the problem that now confronts them. I believe that if the determinations and decisions of an international conference were accepted and honoured by all sides, then the desert of enmity could blossom into lasting friendship and understanding and so allow Arabs and Jews, the great semitic peoples, not only to contribute to each other's wellbeing but in so doing could give an example to all mankind.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Viscount Allenby of Meggido
My Lords, I am very aware of the major contribution that many noble Lords have made this evening. I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, for bringing this Unstarred Question before your Lordships' House. The hour is late and therefore I shall not detain the House for longer than is necessary. But I speak this evening with a deep feeling of respect for the many soldiers of this country and of the Commonwealth who laid down their lives in Palestine in the name of peace. I also have great respect for the many governments and people who have attempted to 777 initiate and to bring about a lasting solution in Palestine. We have become aware tonight of the most serious, indeed the most dangerous, situation developing in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The revolt on the West Bank continues to serve as a grim reminder that the present state of Israel has no right, apart from forcible occupation, to any part of Palestine.
Some 70 years ago this country took possession of Palestine by right of conquest: a conquest that was duly recognised as we have heard by mandate agreed at the San Remo peace conference in 1920 and subsequently approved by the League of Nations two years later. It was as result of terrorist activity by the Zionist organisations and other ideological groups opposed to our occupation that orderly government became totally impossible. We were forced to give up the mandate in May 1948, but I suggest to the House that our sovereignty over the country has never been surrendered.
Being a soldier, I should like to speak for a short while on the military situation. I believe that a similar military situation exists today in Palestine as it did when this country was the paramount power. Israel today has a young and inexperienced conscript army, as we had during the intervening years after World War 2. The young conscript is trained in conventional war, but not in combating carefully orchestrated terrorism. The Israeli army is learning the hard way by painful experience.
Today in Palestine we see an additional element, as again has already been mentioned—the power of the media. The media influence opinion across the world. On our TV screens we have seen the media in their almost daily involvement in street battles. It is clear that the press is adept in setting up traps for the Israeli security forces. Time and again one sees the young, inexperienced and often very frightened soldiers acting in a most fanatical and brutal fashion. However, I remind your Lordships that a similar situation faced this country in the early part of 1946. There were, over a period of four months, 20 acts of terrorism involving our forces and our equipment. These culminated in the destruction of the King David Hotel by the IZL organisation on 20th July, as has already been mentioned. That act alone resulted in 152 deaths, injuries and people missing, principally among civil servants and soldiers and included the Postmaster General, his two assistant secretaries and the Economic Adviser to the Palestinian Government. After that explosion, 700 Jews were interrogated and 30 were detained. Many allegations of brutality followed from both sides to no avail.
Political pressures and worldwide media attention has led to universal condemnation of the Israeli Government for the brutal manner in which their armed forces have been trying to suppress the violent protests of the indigenous population of the occupied territories. As highlighted by a scathing attack by one of the Ministers of Her Majesty's Government, the criticism is sadly justified. However, the cause and the background behind much of what happens is either misconstrued, not understood or deliberately changed to meet the situation.
778 On the Palestinian side, the deep sense of despair, and the growing sense of patriotism among the ordinary people, cannot forever be ignored. I suggest that the ordinary people regard the Palestinian Liberation Organisation as their own army created as a result of the Arab summit conference of 1964. Under Yassir Arafat's chairmanship the PLO has gained considerable international acceptance as the sole legitimate representative of the people, committed as it is to the elimination of Zionism in Palestine. I do not want to enter the argument as to whether the PLO should be included in any future peace conference. However, the PLO's intransigence and its record of extreme acts of terrorism in recent years must be taken into consideration. I reject the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that it should be included at the present time, but I believe that there may be a place for it in future negotiations.
In its Resolution 608, passed in January this year, the Security Council also condemned the Israeli Government's decision to deport Arab ringleaders and called for negotiations to take place to end the Israeli occupation. Comparisons with the situation in Northern Ireland are totally false. I suggest that this country faced a similar situation in Cyprus when we were instrumental in the deportation of President Makarios in the hope of bringing about a more peaceful situation at that time.
This country has consistently stood by its belief in the right of Israel to exist within secure boundaries, but it has never recognised the right of Israel to govern the City of Jerusalem. Sadly, one must acknowledge our diminishing influence and power in Palestine and the greater involvement of the superpowers in recent years. I believe that, as a member of the European Committee, we have a great deal to offer and an important role to play, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, pointed out.
We have a hope as a result of the active diplomatic efforts of the US Government. Agreement exists between Mr. Peres and King Hussein as to how an international conference might work. Though this move is temporarily blocked by the Israeli Government, it has the support of the 12 Foreign Ministers. I applaud the efforts of our Government and those of the US Government to find a solution in an important part of the world. We also have a residual responsibility, and I should like to join with other noble Lords in urging the Government to bring about an international conference which will eventually lead to a lasting peace in the area by every means possible.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, I had not intended to speak in the debate but several points have been made which I believe require answering. I should first like to deal with a point made by several noble Lords. It is that the violence that has been observed on the West Bank was greatly exaggerated by the media and that it was a media creation. Reference was also made to the fact that 800 journalists were present and that they affected the projection of the violence to the outside world. The South African Government have always used exactly that argument as regards 779 violence in South Africa and it is unjustified. We know that film editors show the worst pieces of film and not the best, and viewers understand that. There is no doubt that the conditions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have created the violence that has been seen on television, just as in South Africa. I understand the concern of lovers of Israel that she should not try to defend the indefensible. I believe that one cannot blame the media for the violence that is taking place when one considers the violence from the Israeli troops that has been seen on television.
I wish to deal with the point which directly followed from that and which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Paget of Northampton. He criticised the Foreign Office Minister, Mr. Mellor, who intervened in the actions of the Israeli colonel. I should like to ask the noble Lord what he would have done if he had been invited to another country and had seen an officer commanding troops who were acting in what was to his mind a totally unjustifiable and unjust manner. I remind him of the Nuremberg judgments where it was held that even obedience to the orders of a superior officer was no defence when the acts being perpetrated were against common humanity.
I believe that the Palestinians have suffered displacement and an injustice. Until that is put right the position of Israel will steadily become less secure. The ayatollahs were able to use the festering injustice felt among the Palestinians to put forward their extreme views and I believe that that has not been sufficiently appreciated in the Middle East.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, has chosen the right moment to initiate this debate on the problems of Palestine. We listened to his speech with great interest, as we have listened to all the speeches that have reflected the differing views on both sides of the problem. The House is aware that there are a number of crises in the Middle East and I find it difficult to separate one from the other. From Teheran and Baghdad to Beirut and the West Bank and Gaza the whole of the Middle East is in a ferment. The need for a settlement of the various disputes is obvious and acute. The slaughter in the Iran-Iraq war continues unabated. The Lebanon is an almost uncontrollable shambles. We were shocked to hear of the recent kidnapping of Mr. Peter Coleridge and were delighted and relieved to hear today that he has been released. We hope that Mr. Terry Waite and others will also be released in the near future. The fact that good men are so mistreated reveals the black depths of the problem.
As has been explained in the debate, the violence has now extended to the occupied territories. It has resulted in many deaths and more casualties and in some excesses, as described by my noble friend Lord Glenamara. That is most sad, and we are concerned because of our respect for Israel and her democratic tradition. Such events must mean that she has—temporarily, we trust—lost ground in international esteem. That has not helped Israel's longer-term interest. However, it is necessary to add that part of the problem is the failure of all Arab countries save one to endorse United Nations 780 Security Council Resolution 242, which implicitly recognises Israel's right to exist within secure pre-1967 war boundaries. This has lain at the root of Israel's reactions and fears from the start. Furthermore, Arab countries, especially those with great wealth, may wish to ponder their own record on the refugee problem over the years.
The noble Lord and others have dealt with Mr. George Shultz's troubles in an effort to find a solution and to seek agreement for an international conference, which appears to find almost universal approbation in the House in this debate. Mr. Shultz deserves the utmost praise and our support for his persistent efforts. I am glad that both Government and Opposition in this country gave him sympathetic support.
Mr. Mellor, the Minister of State, has recently visited the Middle East, as have my right honourable friends Mr. Kinnock and Mr. Kaufman, and we have of course noted their reactions. Mr. Kaufman believes that the Israeli Prime Minister Mr. Shamir, should indicate his willingness to sit down at the conference table and negotiate with the Arab countries. Mr. Kinnock was moved by the damage the conflict is inflicting both on the Palestinian people and on the Israeli democratic tradition. He also said that he believes the key to the solution lies in the attitude of the Israeli people in that at the end of the day they must choose between the seemingly military option offered by Mr. Shamir and the prospect of peaceful negotiations offered by Mr. Shimon Peres, who supports the proposal for an international conference. I quote my two honourable friends because they have recently returned from Israel.
From Britain's viewpoint, therefore, it is encouraging that we can all agree upon the need for a conference and that we should do all we can to bring it about, and that, I believe, was the view of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. But there are complications and these have been manifested during Mr. Shultz's strenuous travels. At the start the United States Secretary of State appeared to be pessimistic in his comments on the chances of success. He was not receiving a very warm welcome. On 1st March the Guardian stated:Syria was unhelpful … and Jordan sceptical",and that he was marching from one inconclusive meeting to another. However, I am not as pessimistic as the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, because mercifully there is another mood abroad and this has been reflected in the more helpful remarks of the distinguished Israeli Foreign Affairs expert, Mr. Abba Eban. He referred to the statement of over 100 leading Israeli academic figures, including some who had never before issued a controversial political word but who urged an early end to the occupation regime. He recalled the last words written by Mrs. Golda Meir to the nation, which was referred to in the speech of my noble friend Lord Molloy. Her speech to the nation included the fact that no sane Israeli ever believed that Israel could permanently rule all the territories and populations in the West Bank and Gaza and that new borders would have to be fixed with Jordan. In my view, that is the spirit of the Venice Declaration, to which the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, referred.
781 We also recall the London Agreement of 11th April 1987 in which King Hussein, who must be praised for his constant efforts to seek a solution to this problem, and Mr. Shimon Peres elaborated a scenario for bringing the Israeli-Palestinian problem under serious negotiation.
Mr. Shultz can take comfort from this as he comes to the end of his very difficult mission. However, as has been said already, the problem is the division within the Israeli Government themselves. We must hope that Mr. Shamir will find a compromise which will enable him to move towards a conference which we all think should be held. Mr. Abba Eban has asked the crucial question:Can Mr. Shamir maintain his position against the opinion of the entire world including the United States and half the Israeli people?I should be grateful to the noble Lord if he could clarify one matter. Can he say what steps were taken for Mr. Shultz to meet representatives of the PLO during his mission? The timetable proposed by Mr. Shultz is that the conference would be convened by the United Nation's Secretary General in mid-April and that negotiations between Israel and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation on an interim arrangement of limited self-rule for the 1.5 million occupied Palestinains would start in mid-May; talks on a final settlement would be next December. As I understand it, that was the timetable which the United States Secretary of State had in mind.
The aim of the negotiations would be United Nations Security Resolution 242, which, as the House will recall, insists on the:inadmissability of the acquisition of territory by force".The latest news is that Mr. Shamir will pay a crucial visit to Washington next week and we must hope some constructive results will emerge from what could be an historic visit.
As the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, said, we must appeal and not dictate. He referred to the necessity to avoid a diktat from above. I thoroughly agree with what he said. It would be a tragedy if the Shultz initiative drifted into the sand.
As I have said before in these debates, there is a limit to what Britain can do, although we are conscious of old historic associations; but we must give this worthy initiative all our support and encouragement. We can work through the United Nations, which, if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Paget, is given the most thankless tasks in all the world's trouble spots and which, contrary to his view, I believe does a remarkable job in all the circumstances. We can work with the United States, which is our ally and friend. We can work within the EC, which has taken positive initiatives to seek a settlement. We should also keep in contact with the Soviet Union.
We owe this to the innocent people of the Middle East who are suffering so much this time. Furthermore, we know that the beginning of stabilisation in the Middle East, which is a great prize and must be a great objective, would be a huge step towards the creation of more stable world peace.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Glenarthur)
My Lords, I believe we all agree that the question of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, is timely. It is taking place at a time of intense diplomatic activity on the subject and against a background of disturbing events portrayed in almost nightly reports on our television screens. I am grateful to him for enabling us to discuss a matter of considerable international concern. One matter which this evening's interventions have made clear is the deep interest which your Lordships have in a part of our history in that part of the world and the deep concern we all feel about the situation in the occupied territories and the need for early progress towards a negotiated settlement of the underlying Arab-Israeli conflict. Perhaps I may make it perfectly plain at the outset that the Government fully share that concern.
The toll of suffering and death in the occupied territories since the current wave of unrest began on 9th December last year has been immense. At least 80 Palestinians have been killed. We deeply deplore these acts and all acts of violence such as those which the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara cited and, indeed, the sort of matter to which the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, referred. We call on all sides to exercise maximum restraint in order to avoid further bloodshed.
The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, referred to what I think he described as our alleged ambivalence towards the PLO. The PLO is an umbrella organisation which expresses the aspirations of many thousands of Palestinians to secure their legitimate rights. We deplore the terrorist activities of several of its component organisations. However, I have taken careful note of the points made by the noble Lord.
We fully agree that the Palestinians must be allowed a voice in the negotiations which will determine their future. However, for the PLO alone to represent that voice it is necessary for the PLO to end the ambiguity of its policy on three points which will have to form the core of any negotiations: that is, the acceptance of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 238; recognition of Israel's right to a secure existence and renunciation of the use of violence to achieve its ends.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, may I be permitted to intervene? My point was that that is a requirement unilaterally imposed on the PLO. If Israel and the PLO agree to recognise each other and jointly rejected violence and terrorism that would be splendid. Why do the Government put those conditions only on the PLO and not on the Israeli Government?
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, I hope that, by taking note of the point made by the noble Lord and by explaining to him the importance that taking into account those three points has in considering whether the PLO represent that voice of the Palestinians which the noble Lord seems to indicate in his remarks it does, he will understand why I have made plain those three points since they govern whether the PLO is to be included in the sort of negotiations which the noble Lord seeks.
783 History such as we have heard this evening and particularly as referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Winchilsea, the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, whose name is much associated through his forbears with that part of the world, my noble friend Lord Sandys and the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, is important and it is relevant. Like my noble friend Lord Chelwood, I should like to deal with the present and look towards the future.
We have expressed our concern vigorously to the Israeli authorities, both bilaterally and, as many of your Lordships would have us do, with our European Community partners. In particular, we urge the Israeli occupation authorities to refrain from the use of lethal force and beatings. These only fuel Palestinian resentment and escalate the violence. The appalling nature of this policy was recently demonstrated most disturbingly by the burying alive of four Palestinians and the shocking pictures of soldiers attempting to break the limbs of Palestinian detainees. Those responsible for these and similar abuses must be brought to book.
Until Israel eventually withdraws from the occupied territories, we will continue to urge it to administer the occupation in strict accordance with international law and respect for human rights standards.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, are we going to say that to the Russians, too, in regard to the lands that they occupy? Are we to tell them that they must occupy those lands humanely and not, as we do in the case of Afghanistan, tell them to stop occupying someone else's country? Why not say that in the case of Israel's occupation?
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, it is always easy to draw instances from other parts of the world and not compare like with like. I suspect that that is what the noble Lord may be doing in citing instances of the sort that he mentioned. Let us deal with one subject at a time and concentrate on this particular problem, which we all agree is most disturbing.
The noble Lords, Lord Glenamara and Lord Kagan, regretted the picture of the situation in the occupied territories which is given by the world's press. It is true that the media will focus on the sensational. I understand the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, about the role of soldiers in these circumstances, particularly young soldiers. However, it is also true that the reports of acts of violence which the press publish also bring home to us the need for an early negotiated settlement. We all agree that the suffering must be brought to a quick end. However, essentially that is a short-term measure and will not solve the root causes of the unrest.
I have to say that I have some reservation about the analysis offered by the noble Lords, Lord Glenamara and Lord Kagan, that this unrest stems from a Moslem fundamentalist conspiracy. I do not believe that the available evidence bears this out. Palestinian protests arise from a deeply felt resentment at the suffering experienced over the years. The current violence adds fresh urgency to the search for a just 784 and comprehensive negotiated settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
With the diverging views that have been expressed, this debate has also highlighted the many difficulties that exist in promoting and establishing the settlement we all wish to see. In his excellent speech based on his wide experience, my noble friend Lord Chelwood pointed to some of these problems. The principles for a settlement are clearly established; indeed, they have been rehearsed many times from this Dispatch Box and they were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. They are the right of all states in the region, including Israel, to a secure existence within recognised borders and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to self-determination. I can assure your Lordships that the Government are actively involved in promoting all efforts to help the parties to achieve a settlement on this basis. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Sandys for his recognition of that. We are in close touch with several of those concerned. For example, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister met King Hussein last week. We remain in step with the King's courageous work to advance the cause of peace.
I listened with care to the noble Lord, Lord Paget of Northampton, but I have to say that I found very little with which to agree, perhaps particularly on the matter of an international conference. I hope that he will accept that there is broad agreement, and he will have heard much of it this evening, that an international conference involving the parties to the conflict and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council can provide a suitable framework for the necessary negotiations. The conference would have no right to veto solutions reached by the parties or to impose solutions on them. It is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, indicated, that Israeli government policy remains opposed to the holding of an international conference to resolve the dispute. He asked whether my right honourable friend the Prime Minister would use her influence with Mr. Shamir to advance progress towards a solution. We take all available opportunities to make clear to the Israeli Government our firmly held belief that it is in their own interests to trade territory for peace, and to reach a settlement which will guarantee their own long-term security.
We have given our full and active support to the proposal for an international conference. Support for the idea was reiterated after the Prime Minister's recent meeting with King Hussein, and in another place on 2nd March. The support of the 12 member states of the EC was most recently expressed by the Foreign Ministers in their statement of 8th February.
My noble friend Lord Chelwood has advocated a more prominent role for the United Nations in bringing about a solution. The Security Council and the General Assembly pay close and continuous interest to the issue that we are debating. However, for the present I am sure that we are right to lend support to the initiative taken by the United States as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, did in his remarks. We stand ready to play our part in further 785 consultations in the Security Council at the appropriate time.
My noble friend, supported also by my noble friend Lord Sandys, suggested a United Nations trusteeship as a solution for the occupied territories. I hope that both my noble friends will accept that for us to espouse precise arrangements for a settlement is at present premature. Those directly involved in the dispute must be encouraged to enter into negotiations themselves which they find mutually acceptable. We would not rule out a role for the United Nations in an eventual settlement. I believe that my noble friends will agree that time and negotiations will show whether that is appropriate.
Several of your Lordships have referred, as I did just now, to the current initiative by the United States to advance the peace process. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister had valuable discussions with President Reagan and with his Secretary of State, Mr. Shultz last week. She welcomed the steps being taken by the United States to give fresh impetus to the search for a settlement, and she encouraged Mr. Shultz to continue his efforts. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, for his endorsement of those efforts.
The noble Lord asked specifically about the aborted meeting which was to have taken place recently in Jerusalem between Mr. Shultz and the Palestinian representatives. Obviously, I cannot comment on the details of the shuttle of Mr. Shultz; however, I am aware that such a meeting was proposed but that the Palestinians concerned declined it.
We hope that the parties will be able to reach early agreement with the United States on detailed proposals which can offer a sound basis for progress. I believe that to be compatible with the scenario given to us by the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld. We support the American approach towards the peace process. It provides for careful preparation for a conference and a solution by stages. I agree with him that what we are aiming at is a conference which offers not a trap for the participants but an opportunity for lasting peace. The American proposals are not intended as a substitute in any way; they would build on the wide consensus in support of a solution. We shall continue to work with those directly concerned in order to achieve the measure of common ground and compromise necessary if a peaceful settlement is to be found.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, for his remarks about the long-term future and economic prosperity of the area. I agree that we must not lose our vision of the future. We are convinced that the first need is a political solution to the present conflict. We remain prepared to play our part, once a settlement is in place, in the reconstruction of the 786 economies of the area where development has been so sadly held up by the failure to obtain peace.
Perhaps I may say (as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, referred to it) that any discussion of the region would be incomplete without at least some reference to the tragic occurrences in the Lebanon. The Lebanon has suffered a tragic waste of human and material resources during almost 13 years of war. Its economy is under increasing strain; it has become the base for numerous terrorist groups and it is one of the world's major drug-producing centres.
As I have said to your Lordships at Question Time yesterday, we remain committed to the Lebanon's sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity. External intervention from whatever quarter cannot solve her problems. Only by the Lebanese themselves working together to rebuild their country can a solution be found. A restoration of central government authority appears essential. The international community is not immune to the Lebanon's problems. As the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, reminded us, we have a constant and a grim reminder in the fate of foreign hostages. We are doing all we can to secure the release of British hostages within our firm policy of making no substantive concessions to terrorism. Concessions only feed more hostage-taking. We were delighted to hear of the release, unharmed, of the two UNRWA officials who were kidnapped last month and of Mr. Peter Coleridge of Oxfam.
We have an interest in peace for the Lebanon as much as for any other part of the Middle East. A settlement there should not have to wait on a resolution of the wider Arab-Israel dispute. Equally, it is difficult to envisage Lebanon not being present at an international conference. Meanwhile we continue to press Israel to complete her withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in accordance with Security Council Resolution 425.
I hope I have made clear the Government's concern at the suffering and the tragic waste of human lives and resources which result from the failure to bring about just and lasting settlements to the conflicts besetting this troubled region. I can assure your Lordships that we remain determined to play whatever part we can in helping to restore peace in the area.