HC Deb 22 December 1982 vol 34 cc935-7
6. Mr. Cunliffe

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on the prospect for peace in the Middle East.

8. Mr. Mikardo

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what effect on Her Majesty's Government's policy in the Middle East the rejection by the Palestine Liberation Organisation of President Reagan's plan will have.

Mr. Pym

Recent political initiatives, particularly the proposals put forward by President Reagan, have created a critically important opportunity for progress towards a comprehensive Arab-Israel settlement. We believe it is vital that this opportunity is seized. We are continuing to urge all the parties concerned, including the PLO, to act accordingly and begin the peacekeeping process in a realistic and constructive spirit. The statement from the Palestine Central Council meeting in Damascus did not amount to a rejection by the PLO of President Reagan's initiative. In Lebananon we are striving to achieve the early withdrawal of all foreign forces.

Mr. Cunliffe

In pursuance of the peace process in the Middle East, can the Foreign Secretary reconcile his promise to the House in his statement of 20 October, when he said that the Middle East should become a demilitarised zone, with the Government's intention to send a floating arms exhibition into the area in 1983?

Mr. Pym

Every country is entitled to its security. The exhibition is going to the Gulf, where there are many anxieties arising out of the Iran-Iraq war, to mention just one example. Naturally there is interest in purchasing weapons. In many cases the interest is in British weapons.

Mr. Mikardo

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall the Venice declaration, which was engineered by his predecessor, Lord Carrington, which called for the PLO to be included in the peace negotiations? Does he recall also that the PLO immediately rejected that proposal on the ground that it felt that its problems could be solved not by negotiation but by warfare? Allying that with a recent statement of the Palestine Central Council, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we are getting into a silly circumstance when the whole world, except the PLO itself, is calling for the PLO to be brought into negotiations?

Mr. Pym

We want everyone to come into the negotiations, including Israel, which, at the moment, is not prepared to negotiate on the basis of the Reagan plan. We hope Israel will change its mind. On the whole, Arab countries have shown a more cohesive attitude to the plan since the Fez summit. I hope that they are prepared to take part in such negotiations. We have taken a view of the PLO's attitude to terrorism and to Israel, but we have said that it must be associated with the negotiations. That has been made clear through our membership of the Ten in Europe and through our ordinary contact with the PLO direct. With regard to the Arab League delegation, I hope that that visit will take place later.

Mr. Aitken

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when he visits the Middle East early in January the Arab leaders may be asking him some anxious questions about this country's commitment to the peacemaking process in the light of our postponement so far of the Arab League delegation visit? Is he aware that many people will think that there is an inconsistency in our attitude towards the delegation because it contains a PLO member? We understand that my right hon. Friend himself and other Foreign Office Ministers are willing to receive the PLO spokesman, while other parts of the Government are not.

Mr. Pym

There is no country in the Middle East or the world that does not know that Her Majesty's Government are extremely keen to get the peacemaking process going on the basis of the Reagan plan. No one is in the slightest doubt about that. We regret very much that following an understanding that the Arab League delegation would not include a PLO representative, the representative was included at the last minute. I am sorry that, for that reason, the visit did not take place when planned. We are, however, in touch with all the member countries and hope that the visit will be reinstated in due course.

Mr. Moyle

How can the right hon. Gentleman say that he wants the PLO to adopt a constructive attitude towards peace negotiations when, as a result of the bungling and incompetent interference of the Prime Minister in the process, he is not allowed to talk to an Arab League delegation that includes a representative of the PLO? This is despite the fact that some of his Ministers have met PLO representatives in the past and also the fact that President Mitterrand, a leading supporter of the Israeli State, has met the same delegation, including a PLO representative? Are we not holding up the peacemaking process by this stupid attitude? When will the right hon. Gentleman invite the delegation? Will he impose any conditions on that delegation? If so, what are those conditions?

Mr. Pym

There is much merit in consistency. In our attitude to the PLO we have been consistent. I referred to this in a previous answer. There is some sign that the PLO is moving in the direction that we have constantly urged. We hope that it will pursue its aspirations in future by political and peaceful means. Far from being inconsistent, our position is entirely logical. Every member country knows of our enthusiasm for the peacemaking process. There is much sense in the Government sticking to their attitude on the matter. We want to see the negotiations start. I regret that there has been such a long delay before that has happened.

Mr. Walters

Has my right hon. Friend noted the substantial progress made in talks between King Hussein and Mr. Arafat? Will he now try to reassure the Palestinians about their understandable anxieties regarding the fate of their compatriots in Lebanon? Has my right hon. Friend also noted that the only outright rejection of the Reagan proposals comes from Mr. Begin and the Israeli Government? What does he propose to do to bring pressure to bear to try to change this inflexible and provocative attitude?

Mr. Pym

We have made representations direct to Israel. Representations have been made on behalf of the Ten by the President, who visited Tel Aviv a few weeks ago. I have also made our view plain to Mr. Schultz on a number of occasions. It is very probable that the United States is putting, and will put, pressure on Israel. We have also done everything possible to encourage the Arab countries to take part in the negotiations.