HC Deb 18 March 1981 vol 1 cc272-4
4. Mr. Greville Janner

asked the Lord Privy Seal what response has been made by the United States authorities to the United Kingdom's assurance that the European Economic Community initiative on the Middle East, stemming from the Venice Declaration, was intended to complement the United States' efforts.

The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Ian Gilmour)

The United States State Department made the following statement on 4 March: We have made plain that this Administration supports the ongoing peace process and intends to build on it in seeking a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. We feel that the talks over the past days here with our European allies have confirmed that all of us have a major interest in achieving peace in the Middle East and strengthening security against the Soviet threat there. We are confident that they understand the importance of taking no action that would undercut the peace process. We particularly welcome Mrs. Thatcher's public remarks here that the efforts of the European Community Ten are meant to be complementary to efforts being made by the United States to move towards the comprehensive settlement we all seek.

Mr. Janner

Did the Foreign Secretary discuss with the United States authorities the unhappy possibility that he might meet Yasser Arafat and, if so, what response did he receive?

Sir Ian Gilmour

As far as I know, that was not discussed. The hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at Question Time recently, that it may well be necessary for my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary to meet Mr. Arafat or the PLO during the Presidency.

Mr. Churchill


Sir Ian Gilmour

Although, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, we have had no ministerial contacts with the PLO, we have not ruled that out, but we have always said that it would be much easier to have such contacts if the PLO changed its attitude.

Sir Hugh Fraser

The rather obscure communiqu— which my right hon. Friend read out surely points to the fact that, from the Americans' point of view, the only "ongoing peace process" is the Camp David agreement. Surely it is time now that it was admitted publicly that the so-called European initiative has gone into total abeyance.

Sir Ian Gilmour

With respect, what my right hon. Friend says is quite untrue. It may have been the way I read it out, but I do not think that the statement was very obscure. My right hon. Friend will remember that the European initiative took place at the time when the Camp David process seemed to be more or less in abeyance. We hope that it will not remain in abeyance. Equally, I assure him that the European peace initiative is also not in abeyance.

Mr. David Watkins

Would not the best way to complement the efforts of the United States be to recognise unequivocally the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination in accordance with United Nations principles, and to point out to the American Government the error of their ways in not doing likewise?

Sir Ian Gilmour

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the twin principles in the European initiative announced at Venice—that the legitimate rights of the Palestinians should be recognised and, at the same time, that the security of Israel should be recognised. That is a good way forward towards peace.

Mr. Walters

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while it is essential to bring back the United States into the centre of the peace-making process in the Middle East, it is also extremely important that the momentum of the European initiative should not be lost? Does he agree that the present speeding-up of the Israeli settlements on the West Bank is quite intolerable? What do the Government propose to do about that?

Sir Ian Gilmour

On the last part of my hon. Friend's question, I hope that we can all agree that we regret the speeding-up of settlements on the West Bank. As the House knows, the Government and earlier British Governments have always believed strongly that those settlements are illegal and are an obstacle to peace. I agree that the momentum should be kept up and that the United States should he brought back—if it has ever left—to the centre of the peace-making stage. As my hon. Friend will be aware, Mr. Haig will be visiting the area next month. We all agree that that is an excellent thing to be doing.