HC Deb 19 December 1973 vol 866 cc1327-30
8. Sir John Tilney

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action he has taken at the United Nations designed to maintain peace in the Middle East.

9. Mr. Clinton Davis

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

12. Mr. Mather

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the present Middle East situation, so far as British interests are concerned.

17. Mr. MoIIoy

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement on the Middle East so far as British interests are concerned.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

We greatly welcome the prospect of the opening of the peace conference in Geneva. We hope that this will lead to early and rapid progress towards an overall settlement of the Middle East problem based on the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 242. We remain ready to help in any way we can in the peace-making and peace-keeping processes.

Sir John Tilney

Is it possible for my right hon. Friend to suggest that the United Nations should rent for a long term Sinai, parts of the Negev and the Golan Heights, to act as an international buffer zone between the combatants, to be policed by an individually recruited permanent peace-keeping force?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The idea of renting by the United Nations is a new one, but all ideas on this matter are welcome. That there has to be a buffer zone and that it has to be internationally policed, I have no doubt at all.

Mr. Davis

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at the end of last week it was widely reported in the European Press that the Arab Foreign Ministers visiting Copenhagen were about to demand that the EEC should terminate its trade agreements with Israel? Were any such demands made and, in any event, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake not to surrender to any such demands if they are made in future?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The answer to the first part of the supplementary question is, "No". This question was not raised by the Arab representatives, it is Europe, and Europe alone, that determines its trade relations.

Mr. Mather

Has my right hon. Friend received any communication from the Israeli Government that guaranteed demilitarised zones are now looked upon with more favour? Is it the Government's intention to take part in a peacekeeping force, if so invited?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

We have had no communication from the Israeli Government to suggest that they favour demilitarised zones, although it is obvious that they are giving the matter serious consideration. How the peace-keeping force is formed will be a matter for the Security Council and the Secretary-General. We are certainly willing to take part.

Mr. Molloy

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, despite the welter of propaganda, the basic essentials for the establishment of peace in the Middle East, in the interests of the Palestinians, the Israelis, Britain and the world, are for Israel to withdraw to her boundaries and to let the Arabs have back their lands, and for Israel, created by the United Nations, to be given an absolute guarantee? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the problems afflicting Israeli prisoners of war in Syria and other matters can be dealt with if the basic assumptions are agreed? Will he consider going to the United Nations to put forward this proposal?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

If necessary, I would go to the United Nations, but the peace conference will open in Geneva on Friday. The combatants will be there, with, I think, the exception of Syria, although I hope not. If we can help in any way we shall. If it were necessary for me to go to the United Nations I would do so. There are two elements that are essential to the success of the conference. The first, as the hon. Gentleman said, is withdrawal. The second—and equally important—is security for Israel and her Arab neighbours. Let us not leave out the Arab neighbours.

Mr. Cormack

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is no question of the Government's conniving in any settlement that would lead to Israel's being ringed round by hostile neighbours? Does he also agree that our interpretation of the resolution in question is "territories" and not" the territories"?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The details of the settlement of boundaries must be left to the peace conference. Nobody from outside can settle those. I think it is wiser not to put any particular interpretation on the resolution at this moment.

Mr. Callaghan

Whilst we can all put forward our proposals for a solution, would it not be better to direct our efforts to getting the two sides together to discuss directly their own affairs and their relationships with each other, rather than propounding our own solutions? In view of the importance of the conference to our own interests, especially oil, what has the Foreign Secretary done to ensure that we are adequately represented—if not at the conference, at least in the environs of Geneva?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I am not sure that there is any point in sitting outside the room. We shall get communications from all the parties concerned which will tell us how the conference is going on. The organisation of the conference at the start will be that the combatants will meet, the Russians and the Americans will be the co-chairmen and the rest of us will hold ourselves in reserve to help where help is necessary. We are in a position to do that as a permanent member of the Security Council.

Mr. Callaghan

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his answer? Although no one need be physically present in the room, would not it be advantageous to Britain to have some high-level representation on the spot, available for consultation, to put our point of view, to see immediately what issues are coming up, and help to resolve them?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I will consider what is necessary. We have a very competent ambassador in Switzerland, who could, if necessary, do this job. I shall consider the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion.