HC Deb 18 February 1981 vol 999 cc257-9
2. Mr. Marlow

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will report on the progress of the European initiative in the Middle East.

10. Mr. Walters

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on progress towards peace in the Middle East.

The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Ian Gilmour)

The Dutch Presidency of the 10 is about to undertake further contacts with all the parties to explore the practical implications of the principles set out in the Venice declaration and the possibilities for progress. The 10 remain determined to work actively for a comprehensive settlement providing justice for the Palestinians and security for Israel.

Mr. Marlow

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the fact that earlier this month a delegation from both sides of the House visited the Lebanon, Jordan and the West Bank, and that we had three very distinct impressions—one was that the PLO is representative of the vast majority of Palestinians, secondly, that there is no such thing as a Jordanian option and the Jordanian Government and King believe that the Palestinians must negotiate their own future and, thirdly, there is great hope for the European initiative, and that the moderate elements in the PLO, who are certainly in the ascendency at the moment, will find their position weakened if there is a long delay in bringing forward the peace process?

Sir Ian Gilmour

I am sure that the House will agree with my hon. Friend that the greater the speed the better. The Dutch President, Mr. van der Klaauw, will be shortly going to the Middle East. It is generally accepted that the PLO represents a great many Palestinians. I agree with my hon. Friend that the Jordanian option, as it is often called, is not an option. When I was in the Middle East at about the same time as my hon. Friend, King Hussein made that clear to me.

Mr. Walters

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the welcome recently voiced by President Sadat to a greater European involvement in the peace-making process facilitates the speeding up of the European initiative? Does he accept that top level meetings with the PLO leadership soon would encourage the American Administration to follow suit?

Sir Ian Gilmour

We welcomed greatly President Sadat's speech at Luxembourg, in which he welcomed the European initiative and called for mutual recognition of Palestinians and Israelis.

As my hon. Friend knows, there have been contacts at official level with the PLO, but there have not yet been ministerial contacts. We have always said that contact would be made much easier if the PLO were to recognise the existence of Israel.

Mr. Heffer

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that many of us who have been closely associated over the years with supporting the rights of Israel to have secure borders feel that the time has come when Israel should be prepared to discuss the problems with the Palestinians? Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that the PLO must make a clear declaration that it accepts the security of Israel's borders and accepts that Israel is a State and is able to live in peace in the Middle East?

Sir Ian Gilmour

I entirely agree with what the hon. Gentleman says. The recognition of the Palestinian rights of determination and withdrawal by the Israelis to the 1967 boundaries must be balanced by the Palestinians' recognition of Israel.

Mr. William Shelton

Will my right hon. Friend agree that while the PLO refuses to recognise the existence of the State of Israel it is impossible for Her Majesty's Government to recognise the PLO?

Sir Ian Gilmour

That is not the point. As I have said and as President Sadat said, we favour mutual recognition, and recognise States, not organisations. Therefore, there is no question of official recognition of the PLO.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a just peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict would be a major stabilising factor in the Middle East and would help towards the recovery of the whole of the Western world? Does he agree that the first major step in that direction would be a recognition of the PLO?

Sir Ian Gilmour

I agree with everything but the last phrase of the hon. Gentleman. It would be a major step forward and a great force for stabilisation of the Middle East, but, for the reason that I have just given to my hon. Friend, we cannot recognise the PLO.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Will my right hon. Friend agree that any effective European initiative must include strong representations from the United States Government over the Israeli Government's settlement policy? Will my right hon. Friend further agree that that policy is against international law and deserves to be condemned?

Sir Ian Gilmour

As my hon. Friend knows we have always made our position clear. That does not differ from the position of the Labour Government that the Israeli settlements are illegal and an obstacle to peace. We regret particularly the speeding up of the settlement in the last month of that Government.

Mr. Moyle

In connection with that, has the Lord Privy Seal made representations to the Israeli Government about the reports that in recent weeks they have seized 55,000 acres of land on the West Bank? Does he regard that as being not conducive to the compromises which are essential if peace is to be reached in the Middle East? If he has made representations, what has been the response from the Israeli Government?

Sir Ian Gilmour

The Israeli Government well know our views on their settlement policy and, a fortiori, they know our views about the speeding up of settlement. When I was in Jordan, Prince Hassan said that the Israelis had taken legal title to about 38 per cent, of the West Bank. That is a frightening figure.

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