HC Deb 15 June 1977 vol 933 cc359-61
1. Mr. Luce

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

12. Mr. Walters

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made to achieve a peaceful settlement in the Middle East; and if he will make a statement.

25. Mr. Moonman

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

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Dr. David Owen)

It is too early to make a statement. Intensive efforts are being made to establish an agreed basis for a peaceful settlement and now that the Israeli election is over I would expect a further round of discussions. In particular, I welcome the high priority that the new United States Administration are giving to this issue.

Mr. Luce

In view of the very urgent need for progress towards the Geneva Conference, will the right hon. Gentleman seek a fresh Community initiative to this whole issue that is designed to persuade the Israelis to desist from constructing settlements in Arab-occupied territories, and equally to persuade the Palestinians at the very least to recognise Israel's right to exist?

Dr. Owen

The details of a peace agreement are for negotiation, but we have made it clear that we regret anything, including the Israeli policy of establishing settlements in the occupied territories, that might impede the beginning of negotiations. We hope that it will be possible to reconvene the Geneva Conference in the autumn, as the United States Government have proposed.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Would it not now be a commendable gesture for Her Majesty's Government to invite Mr. Yasser Arafat to London for negotiations so that we might be able to find out at first hand what are the legitimate objectives of the Palestinians? After all, this gentleman has far more credibility than the present leader of Israel.

Dr. Owen

I find it difficult to agree to meet Mr. Arafat until the PLO has recognised the State of Israel, or has gone rather further than it has done to recognise—[Interruption.] I agree with my hon. Friend that it is necessary for moves to be made on both sides. I do not deny in any way that one must be ready to speak to many differing people. However, there is no hiding the fact that a greater acceptance of the right of Israel to exist would make matters easier. That is a fact of life that all of us recognise. I also recognise that that poses problems for the PLO, but there is no doubt that it is one of the barriers to having the sort of discussions that my hon. Friend has suggested.

Mr. Marten

The Secretary of State did not exactly answer the supplementary question of my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce)—namely, what initiative is the Community going to take? Does it speak with one voice on this issue?

Dr. Owen

The hon. Gentleman's zealous regard for a Community statement is touching. I shall take it into full account. The fact is that the Community has spoken with one voice on this issue on many occasions in the past. It is a matter of concern and it is discussed among the Foreign Ministers of the Nine at every political co-operation meeting.

Mr. Hooley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the situation has recently become much more dangerous in the Middle East and that time is running out? Does he recognise that time is not on our side, and that much more urgency should be shown by the Western world in moving towards a solution of this problem?

Dr. Owen

I agree. I think that the situation is urgent. It has been given a very high priority by the United States Government and by many other Governments. I have visited some of the major countries involved and I hope to visit others in the next few months. We should not automatically assume that the result of the Israeli election will necessarily mean a setback to peace negotiations, although it is clearly an unexpected result in some people's minds. I hope that the new Government, once they have been fully formed, will show a readiness to negotiate and a flexibility rather in advance of what they have said hitherto on the subject.