HC Deb 26 March 1968 vol 761 cc1473-82

8.20 a.m.

Mr. Raymond Fletcher (Ilkeston)

I suppose I should apologise to the House for detaining it at this hour of the morning, but I do not feel inclined to make any apology whatever for raising the question of the Middle East, even at this hour.

What I want to say resolves itself into a couple of questions which will be directed to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs who is to reply, but I think it is necessary for me to preface the questions with a fairly brief statement of my own attitude towards the recent events in the Middle East.

When we look at the Middle East we are confronted with a situation in which we see the only democracy in the Middle East surrounded by hostile states. I would go even further than that in terms that I hope will commend themselves to my hon. Friend. It is the only social democracy in the Middle East surround- ded by hostile States. Therefore, I find it quite impossible to adopt a position of neutrality as between Israel and the Arab states which encircle and threaten it.

We are entitled in this House to make qualitative judgments about the internal and external policies of other countries, and I make this qualitative judgment about the State of Israel. It is a democracy. It is a social democracy, and it is threatened by something which we in this House have always found repellent and repugnant. I use those terms because when we consider the propaganda which emanates from the Arab states and when we consider what emanates almost daily from Cairo Radio, we find in that propaganda the kind of stuff that we used to hear from Berlin in the days of the late Dr. Goebbels. This entitles me, and I think the whole House, to make a distinction between the Arab states and Israel.

As everybody is aware, in Nazi Germany what gave a peculiar horror to what was perpetrated by the Nazis was the fact that every act committed by the Nazis was inspired by Dr. Goebbels and the racialist propaganda that is associated with his name. There is no need for me to quote examples of the kind of racialist propaganda which has emanated from the radio stations of various Arab states. There is no need for me to remind the House that whatever may have been said since the six days' war, at the outset of that war the outspoken aims of the Arab armies as stated by the radio stations of the Arab States was nothing less than genocide. Those of us who know the Middle East know quite well that had the Arab armies reached Tel Aviv and then the Israeli-controlled part of Jerusalem, discipline would have broken down and there would have been a repetition of the kind of thing that we associate with the names of Auschwitz, Belsen and Dachau.

Arab propagandists—many of them not Arab but German—made it quite clear that their war aim in June was not only the annihilation of the Israeli State but the liquidation of the Israelis. I mention this to emphasise that I cannot be neutral in any kind of conflict between the State of Israel—which is a democracy, and a social democracy—and the Arab States, which seem to me, having listened to and analysed so much of their propaganda, to have taken upon their shoulders the mantle of the late Dr. Goebbels.

I speak not as an objective observer but as a partisan. I believe that the State of Israel has the right not only to exist but, considering the type of enemy which confronts it, has the right to defend itself. It is in this context that I place the recent events.

First—since I may be to some extent in conflict with the Foreign Office on this question—I want to give one quotation which may settle once for all where British people should stand in relation to the State of Israel. It is a quotation from a book by the late Sir Lewis Namier, the eminent historian. He quotes from a talk he had—and he took shorthand notes of it—with a very celebrated figure in British history. This celebrated figure had this to say: The problem of Zionism is the problem of the third generation"— this was said in 1930— It is the grandsons of your immigrants who will make it succeed or fail, but the odds are so much in its favour that the experiment is worth backing; and I back it not because of the Jews, but because a regenerated Palestine is going to raise the whole moral and material status of its Middle East neighbours. That quotation comes from Lawrence of Arabia, who can be said to be one of the fathers of Arab nationalism. I take it as the text for my whole attitude towards the State of Israel, towards Zionism and towards the relationship between the State of Israel and its Arab neighbours.

I have said that the State of Israel has the right not only to exist but to defend itself, and I am firmly convinced that the recent actions were conducted in pursuance of that right to defend itself. We have seen in the Press—notably in The Times—all kinds of justification for the existence of terrorist organisations on the west bank of the Jordan. We have seen a lengthy apologia by the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Jordan, in The Times only two days ago, for the existence of these terrorist groups, which he describes as resistance groups.

Anything which emanates from the Arab States at this moment may be taken with the same pinch of salt with which we took the statements that came from both Jordan and Egypt at the time of the six days' war, to the effect that British aircraft were engaged in hostile activities against the Arab States. What I am saying in a roundabout way is that I just do not believe many of the statements which come from the Arab States. I do not care how eminent the people may be who make those statements, I just do not believe them. One of the awful facts of the present situation is the tendency of the Governments of the Arab States—and it is transmitted to the peoples of the Arab States—to believe in a kind of propaganda which gives them a kind of self-justification.

This brings me to my first question. I would ask my hon. Friend to make it very clear that the Government do not condone terrorist activities of any kind. If we give the impression that these activities are legitimate, that these activities are in some way justified, far from expressing support for legitimate Arab interests, by fostering Arab illusions we are helping the present Governments of the Arab States to drive their own people towards ultimate destruction. Therefore, I think it is very necessary, in the interests of the Arab peoples themselves that there be clear condemnation of terrorist activities. We in this House have never sanctioned terrorism anywhere. If we gave the slightest sanction today, by regarding it, even indirectly, as legitimate resistance, we would be deluding the Governments of the Arab States, we would be deluding the citizens of the Arab States, we would be encouraging those Arab States to pursue what can only be a disastrous collision course.

For the one thing which is clear and unmistakeable about the Middle East is that Israel is there to stay, that Israel is militarily powerful, and that no combination of Arab States in any way, shape or form can destroy the State of Israel. If anything emanates from this House to encourage Arab leaders in the delusion that at some future time Israel will disappear or just wither away, or become so weak and divided that it can be destroyed by military activity, if that illusion is fostered from this House, it can only mean disaster for the Arab peoples themselves. So I would ask my hon. Friend to make it very clear that, whatever the views of the Government on the Middle East situation as a whole—and I am not here to quarrel with the Government on this point—there is at no point any kind of support for the terrorism which is now being freely indulged on the west bank of the Jordan and freely condoned by the rather weak King of Jordan, who at one time condemned A1 Fateh but, when he realised that it had more popular support than he, condoned it. It is very necessary, therefore, for this House to make a clear and precise condemnation of that kind of activity. If we believe in peaceful settlements, as we all do, then that kind of terrorism, which we in this country have met in different forms in different parts of the world, cannot be condoned.

The second point is this. We do have to understand, without completely supporting, the attitude of the Government of Israel. The Government of Israel are asked by the United Nations, the world authority, to conform with certain resolutions 'passed by the United Nations. I am sure that every hon. Member would hope that the Government of Israel would so conform and that every other State in the Middle East would, too. But we are justified in looking at the historical record, in the light of Israel's experience.

There have been occasions when Israel has bowed to world opinion. There was a case in 1951, when Israel agreed that the island of Tiran should be cleared and occupied by Egypt, and that Israel had no objection to that occupation, provided that the Egyptians did not blockade the Israeli port. However, though Israel bowed to world opinion, Egypt did not.

We come to 1957, when again Israel bowed to world opinion. She was persuaded to allow Sharm-el-Sheik to become, in a sense, a ward of the United Nations Emergency Force. We all know what happened to the U.N.E.F. Whatever else one may say about the United Nations Organisation, no one can disagree that Israel was very badly let down in the event—

Mr. Speaker

Order. With respect, we cannot debate the whole of the history of Israel. The hon. Gentleman must confine himself to actions which he thinks that the Government might take now.

Mr. Fletcher

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I was carried away, as I am frequently. I wish merely to emphasise the fact that Israel has bowed to world opinion on two conspicuous occasions. Her Majesty's Government, quite correctly, also bow to world opinion and express their attitude towards the Middle East through the United Nations Organisation.

I ask my hon. Friend to recall that the Israel experience of the United Nations Organisation has been a rather bitter one, and that the United Nations Organisation, fully supported by Her Majesty's Government, has not been able to play the rôle in the Middle East that most of us would wish to see.

It is in that connection that I pose my second question. It is very important that Dr. Jarring's Mission should succeed, for reasons which I will not develop now. The Mission has the fullest support of Her Majesty's Government, but it is on the rocks. It has reached a difficult period in its existence. In spite of that, I would like a clear affirmation from my hon. Friend that it is still this Government's policy to give full support to the Mission and secure a peace settlement in the Middle East which, directly or indirectly, either by great Power agreement or through the United Nations Organisation, is underwritten by the rest of the Powers of the world.

I emphasise that although we have in U.N. Resolutions the blueprint for a settlement—and I am as firmly convinced as anybody on the Government Front Bench that this is the only possible blueprint for a settlement—nevertheless, there is nothing in U.N. Resolutions and nothing in the statements of policy emanating from Her Majesty's Government which in any way reduces the importance at this time of the Arab States and Israel meeting face to face. This is not a situation that can be resolved by abstract formulae, whether produced from this House or from the United Nations Organisation. As I have said, the outlines for a settlement are already there, but they are not the settlement itself.

There is a third question, which perhaps it would not be advisable to have answered at this moment. I would like confirmation of what I regard as an essential fact. At some point, in whatever negotiations arise from the blueprint produced by the United Nations, there must be a face to face confrontation. There must be face to face talks between the Arab States and Israel. It is impossible for Israel to continue to face the Arab States so long as the Arab States are bound by the Resolutions of the Khartum Summit Conference which implied no negotiations, no peace settlement, no peace at all. Peace requires a face to face confrontation.

Finally, it is tragic—and I speak with some feeling—that this part of the world, which is the centre of the religions which inspire the majority of the human race, should be an arena of bloodshed and strife. It is terribly tragic that that should be so. But this is a part of the world in which the United Nations Organisation, if it is to work at all, if it is to be the skeleton framework of a future world government, has to be made to work. It is a part of the world where the United Nations Organisation can be made to work with the full support of Her Majesty's Government. But it is not sufficient that the United Nations shall move in and bring peace to a turbulent area. It is important that Her Majesty's Government should be rather more specific about what is happening in the Middle East.

My third question, after all, is the—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I would remind the hon. Member that during the last 17 hours I have frequently appealed for reasonably brief speeches.

Mr. Fletcher

The last point is that I believe that the Government should emphasise that, whatever the outlines for the settlement, there must be a face to face negotiation between Israel and the Arab States. I ask the Government to use all their considerable powers and influence to bring this about.

8.44 a.m.

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Goronwy Roberts)

Like other hon. Members, I always listen with great interest and respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher). Today he has spoken frankly as a partisan, but I am sure that he is equally capable of approaching this very difficult and dangerous problem with impartiality and objective analysis.

I think that on reflection my hon. Friend will agree that it would not be productive to delve into the complex past history of the Arab-Israel problem to try to establish where the blame for the present situation principally lies. For the last 20 years the peoples of the Middle East have lived through a succession of crises, including three full-scale Arab-Israeli wars, which have brought untold harm and suffering to all the peoples concerned, and have in addition posed a threat to the peace of the whole world. It follows from this that the central aim of the Government in the present situation is to help to achieve a lasting peace in the area in which all the peoples of the region may be able to develop the full potentialities of their countries to the benefit of all, and in which our own considerable commercial and economic interests can flourish.

I hope my hon. Friend will agree that in a situation such as this, where passions are bitterly inflamed, and where each side is convinced, not without some justice, that right is on its side, no other outside country will be able to help very much towards resolving the present conflict if it is considered to be the partisan of one side or the other. To be a partisan would in any case mean ignoring facets of the truth, since in this dispute we are faced with a conflict of two rights, for both of which there is much to be said. In these circumstances I hope the House will agree that a policy of impartiality, of not taking sides, is the only possible course for a responsible Government truly concerned to secure lasting peace in the area.

I turn, now, to the more immediate situation as it has existed since the six-day war in June, 1967. Her Majesty's Government have maintained a balanced policy covering both the necessity for Israel to withdraw from occupied territories, and for the Arab countries to end the state of war with Israel and to acknowledge the right of Israel to live in peace within secure and recognised boundaries. This was set out by my right hon. Friend the former Foreign Secretary in his speeches of 21st June and 26th September at the United Nations, and also in statements to the House. It is in this way, I suggest, that we have been able to make a substantial contribution to the search for a peaceful settlement.

We of course recognise that our ability to influence the situation acting on our own is necessarily limited, and that if an end is to be found to this destructive enmity which has bedeviled the area for the last 20 years it can only be achieved by the international community acting together in the interests of peace, and here I join my hon. Friend who emphasised the rôle of the United Nations in this matter. It is for this reason that the Government have, since the six-day war, laid so much stress on working through the United Nations.

There may be those who question the efficacy of the United Nations in achieving constructive results, and I listened to what my hon. Friend said about Israeli doubts on this, based on what they consider to be their experience of the past. There have often been grounds for disappointment, not only in this matter, but in others. This could be inimical, but all the encouraging initiatives and all the hopes for progress towards an Arab-Israeli settlement have arisen out of the activity of the United Nations, and in that activity this country and this Government have played an honourable and effective part.

In the immediate aftermath of the six-day war our efforts through the United Nations were necessarily concentrated on the achievement of a cease-fire and in trying to make it effective. There have, regrettably, been many breaches, on both sides, of the cease-fire, but it did at least confine the dangers of full-scale open war, with all the risks that this involved of escalation and extension. Later it was the policy of Her Majesty's Government to work through the United Nations for a Resolution dealing more directly with the substance of the Arab-Israeli situation and providing for the appointment of a representative of the Secretary General to go to the Middle East to discuss with the parties concerned and to try to bring them to accept a settlement based on the principles set out in the Resolution.

The unanimous adoption by the Security Council of the British draft Resolution of 22nd November set the scene for the conciliatory Mission of the distinguished ambassador, Mr. Jarring, who is continuing, despite last week's clashes. My hon. Friend asked me to confirm that it is our policy fully to support the Jarring Mission. Of course, having been one of the principals concerned in making the Mission possible, we are indeed 100 per cent. in support of the Mission and deeply anxious that it should continue to full success.

The Government believe that in this situation it is even more important that Mr. Jarring's Mission should be kept in being not only by all countries but by all countries in the Middle East. I welcome my hon. Friend's support in this. We hope that the unanimous Resolution adopted on 24th March by the Security Council condemning the Israeli incursion into the east bank of the Jordan on 21st March and deploring other violent incidents in violation of the cease fire, will have contributed to bringing home to both Arabs and Israelis the folly of allowing fresh escalation of violence.

We all deplore all violence, whether by raid or reprisal in this highly dangerous situation, and our Permanent Representative at the United Nations made our attitude clear in the Session on 21st March. Obviously, if Mr. Jarring is to have any prospect of success, concessions will be required by both Israelis and arabs, which will mean their abandoning or modifying attitudes and positions to some of which they are deeply attached, but we are convinced that this is the only way to prevent the situation from getting worse.

If there is no progress towards a settlement, passions will be further inflamed, there will be no slackening of the armed tensions of the past 20 years, and this cannot but be to the detriment of all the peoples of the Middle East and a constant threat to world peace. I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said in support of the Government's firm policy of working through the United Nations and his appreciative references to our initiatives, and I hope that he will write and speak in future in support of those principles.