HC Deb 15 April 1981 vol 3 cc307-8
3. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Lord Privy Seal what representations he has had on the subject since it was disclosed that the Foreign Secretary may find it necessary to meet Yasser Arafat when President of the European Economic Community Council of Ministers.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

We have received a small number of letters.

Mrs. Short

I am grateful to the Minister for that illuminating reply. What does he intend to do to influence the Palestine Liberation Organisation to renounce the clauses in its national convenant, which the Foreign Secretary has described as unacceptable, and which call for the destruction of Israel? Prior to any meeting, should not the PLO be asked to renounce its intention to commit acts of violence against Israel?

Mr. Hurd

It is not so much a matter of amending constitutional documents, as of achieving a clear understanding that if the Israelis accept Palestinian self-determination, the Palestinians will recognise Israel's right to exist behind secure frontiers. Both sides must move. At an official level we have occasional contacts with the PLO, partly because we wish to make the point that the hon. Lady has made.

Mr. Walters

Does my hon. Friend agree that there will not be a satisfactory solution to the Middle East problem without a recognition of Palestinian rights? That is universally accepted. Is it not therefore sensible to talk to the effective representatives of the Palestinian people,. namely, the PLO? It would be easier if concessions were made by both sides.

Mr. Hurd

Concessions will have to be made by both sides if there is to be a negotiated settlement. Because of the support that the PLO enjoys on the West Bank, we believe that it will have to be associated with the negotiations. If they are to be fruitful, the PLO will have to change its public attitude to the State of Israel.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Does the Minister still wish to draw the distinction that his right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal sought to draw during the last Foreign Office Question Time between entering into talks with the IRA and entering into talks with the PLO? In the light of the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election is it not a somewhat false distinction?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman is trying to be a bit too clever. Anyone who knows anything about the situations on the West Bank and in Northern Ireland will deny that they are comparable.

Mr. Sainsbury

Is my hon. Friend aware that as recently as 9 April an official spokesman of the PLO said that he wished to make it clear, particularly to European countries, that the PLO's refusal to recognise Israel was an unchangeable and permanent policy? In the light of that statement, which is well verified, would it not be most unwise for the Foreign Secretary to meet the head of that organisation?

Mr. Hurd

I have seen that that quotation has been circulated by the Israeli embassy—[Interruption.] There is no objection to that.

Mrs. Short

Is it right?

Mr. Hurd

I have not been able to check it. However, there is a mass of such quotations from Palestinians about Israel and from Israelis about the Palestinians. They serve to show only that if there is to be any chance of a negotiated settlement all the parties must make very considerable shifts in their public attitudes.

Mr. Moyle

Has the hon. Gentleman seen reports to the effect that the Israelis would have been prepared to accept a United Nations' peacekeeping force in the Lebanon if that had been proposed? Will the Government consider welcoming that statement? If so, will they make inquiries into whether that represents a general review by the Israeli Government of their attitude to United Nations' peacekeeping forces? They might be prepared to accept such forces on the West Bank and in Sinai as part of an overall Middle East settlement.

Mr. Hurd

There is a lot of diplomatic activity about the Lebanon. Not all of it is clear. However, I understand that at this stage there is no proposal to have a United Nations' peacekeeping force in Beirut or in Zahle, where the recent fighting has been fiercest.

The right hon. Gentleman has made a correct general point. We hope that the Israelis will make life easier for the existing United Nations' force in South Lebanon—I am using rather mild phraseology in that respect—and that they will keep an open mind about forms of international peacekeeping that might contribute to an eventual Arab-Israeli settlement.

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