HC Deb 21 January 1981 vol 997 cc252-3
10 Dr M. S. Miller

asked the Lord Privy Seal what recent discussions he has had with the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

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

Ministers have not had discussions with the PLO. Sir John Graham, a deputy under-secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, met Yasser Arafat on 2 December in Beirut during a routine and fully authorized tour of the Middle East in order to hear at first hand the PLO's views and to explain our own.

Dr. Miller

Did the hon. Gentleman make it clear to Sir John that the British Government could not expect much progress to be made in such talks unless and until the PLO renounced its oft-repeated intention to try to eliminate the State of Israel?

Mr. Hurd

There are two basic facts. One is that the PLO enjoys a lot of support on the West Bank and in Gaza. Secondly, as the hon. Gentleman indicated, it will have to move a considerable distance in accepting the existence and right to security of Israel before there can be a peace settlement. That seems to us a good reason for having additional contacts with it.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Does the Minister accept that the idea of constant consultation will be welcome to many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and that no final settlement is possible without the inclusion of the PLO in whatever agreement is arrived at?

Mr. Hurd

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the PLO will need to be associated in one way or another with discussions before there can be a durable settlement. That was the position taken by the Heads of Government of the Nine at Venice.

Mr. Walters

Does my hon. Friend agree that there cannot be a lasting peace in the Middle East without the recognition of Palestinian as well as of Israeli rights? The PLO represents the great majority of Palestinian opinion. Therefore, is it not sensible and obvious that talks with the PLO should be speeded up?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend is really paraphrasing the two main principles of the Venice declaration. The Council of Ministers of the EEC yesterday gave the Dutch Foreign Minister a mandate to continue discussions based on those principles and on the analysis just put forward by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Healey

Will the Minister accept that one great obstacle to negotiations over the Palestinian problem might be removed in July when a new Government take office in Israel, a Government who reject Mr. Begin's claim to the so-called biblical lands, and that it is desirable that the other great obstacle to negotiations should be removed by the PLO's renouncing its commitment to the annihilation of the State of Israel?

Mr. Hurd

I have said that we see a need for the PLO to move a considerable distance. The right hon. Gentleman would not want the Government to take sides in Israeli politics. We pay attention to the views of all Israeli leaders.

Mr. Farr

Will my hon. Friend confirm that while the aims of the PLO remain unchanged, there is a far greater readiness now to achieve them by negotiation rather than by force?

Mr. Hurd

There have been negotiations, mainly in private conversations, to that effect. What is now needed is for the PLO to move some distance in public, and for the Israelis, in their turn, to accept that it will not be possible to settle the future of the West Bank and Gaza without the participation of the Palestinians.