HC Deb 17 March 1958 vol 584 cc896-8
7. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware of the decision of the State of Israel to release bank accounts to the value of 8 million dollars in favour of Arab refugees and their offer to the United Nations to pay compensation for abandoned lands as a contribution to Arab refugee settlement; whether the United Nations has yet conveyed this offer to any of the Arab countries; and with what result.

21. Mr. Grimond

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will propose through the United Nations that a fresh effort be made to re-settle the Palestinian refugees within the Iraq-Jordan confederation with the aid of United Nations and Jewish funds.

Commander Noble

As my right hon. Friend said in the House on 27th November, 1957, we shall play our part as members of the United Nations in seeking a solution of the Palestine problem on a basis of justice; and a settlement of the refugees is an essential condition of a final settlement.

I am aware that the Israel Government began in March, 1953, to release the accounts which belonged to Arab refugees but which had until then been blocked in Israel banks. The Conciliation Commission reported in October, 1956, that about 7½ million dollars of the funds in question had been released, out of an estimated total of about 8½million dollars.

This action appears to have no connection with the question of compensation for abandoned lands and so far as Her Majesty's Government are at present aware no new initiative in this respect has been taken by the Israel Government.

Mr. Shinwell

Yes, but will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman be good enough to answer my Question? What I wished to know was whether this gesture had been taken up with the United Nations and conveyed to the Arab countries. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has not answered that part of the Question. Does he not regard this gesture as very welcome as possibly leading to a solution of one of the principal problems concerning the Middle East?

Commander Noble

I certainly hope that this gesture may lead to the solving of this problem, but I think that the Arab countries and the United Nations are well aware of the information to which the right hon. Gentleman has drawn our attention. This started in 1953, and the moneys concerned were funds which belonged to the refugees and had been blocked.

Mr. Shinwell

Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman be good enough to answer my question? Is it quite explicit. What I want to know is whether the United Nations has taken any action in the matter and conveyed this gesture to the Arab countries. Will he answer that?

Commander Noble

I am afraid I have not got that information—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman's Question will have drawn attention to it. As I said in my Answer, this has been going on since 1953. I rather hoped that the right hon. Gentleman had got some new information for us. If so, I shall be very glad to have it.

Mr. Grimond

While appreciating that this matter has a long history, may I ask whether the right hon. and gallant Gentleman does not think that the situation has altered somewhat owing to the confederation of Iraq and Jordan, coupled with the present offer by the Israel Government making funds available? Is not this the moment, possibly, for some new effort to be made to encourage a trickle of refugees moving within the Confederation into the fertile crescent and thus lessen tension a little?

Commander Noble

I think it is a little too early to judge this very recent development in the Middle East.

Mr. Bevan

Is it not a fact that for some years a trickle has been going from Jordan to Iraq and that some resettlement has taken place in Iraq, and that perhaps it would be just as well if not too much attention were called to it because, if not, the trickle may grow into a flood?

Commander Noble

That is what I was trying to imply.