HC Deb 13 April 1983 vol 40 cc785-7
2. Sir John Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the visit of the Arab League delegation to London headed by King Hussein.

20. Mr. David Watkins

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the prospects for peace in the middle east.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Francis Pym)

The Arab League delegation led by King Hussein of Jordan paid a visit to London on 18 March. There was a constructive and wide-ranging discussion on the situation in the middle east.

Recent events obviously constitute a setback for peace efforts. But, following my discussions in the region, I remain convinced that if peace negotiations are to begin there is no practical alternative to the proposals of President Reagan as the starting point. As I said all along, these proposals constitute an opportunity which will not recur and therefore must be seized urgently. It is essential that the forces of moderation, not least in the PLO, carry the day. It is the Palestinians themselves who stand to lose the most if they do not. Likewise, it remains essential that all foreign forces should withdraw quickly from Lebanon and that the unacceptable settlement programme on the West Bank should be halted. Israel has a heavy responsibility in both bases.

Our own approach continues to rest on the principles set out in the Venice declaration. We are encouraging to the limit of our ability all those working for peace and are in close touch with them. The role of the United States Government, both in the Lebanon talks and in the wider peace process, of course remains central.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

While welcoming Her Majesty's Government's support for the Reagan proposals, may I ask whether there was any commitment from the delegation to seek negotiations for peace with the state of Israel?

Mr. Pym

Yes. There was a discussion of the first declaration, which implicitly refers to the recognition of the security and peace of all states in the region. The discussions began on the basis of the first declaration. The discussion was wide-ranging and both sides found it extremely valuable.

Mr. Watkins

To what extent was the Israeli illegal occupation and fortification of southern Lebanon and of the West Bank discussed, both of which are in direct contravention of the Reagan initiative? What efforts are the British Government making to end these twin aggressions and obstacles to peace in the middle east?

Mr. Pym

The hon. Gentleman knows the British Government's view on both of those issues. They are invariably raised in all discussions about the middle east. They were not dwelt upon at length in the Arab League delegation visit, but they were touched upon. In all my recent discussions, they have been referred to.

Mr. Latham

Now that the Secretary of State has met King Hussein twice, including once recently, and King Fahd, will he go to Israel to meet the Israelis?

Mr. Pym

I have no plans at present to do so, but that is always a possibility.

Mr. Healey

Although I agree with the Foreign Secretary that the Reagan proposals still represent the best practical way forward, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the central problem has been that Mr. Begin's Government have rejected absolutely and unconditionally the idea of negotiating on them? In addition, President Reagan has failed to influence the Israeli Government either to withdraw their troops from the Lebanon, where, as my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins) said, they are fortifying their positions in the Bekaa valley, or to freeze the settlements. Today we have heard that the Israeli Government are considering a plan to build 57 more settlements in the next four years on the West Bank. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that our Government will now approach President Reagan to seek his assistance in dissuading the Israeli Government from those courses?

Mr. Pym

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's factual assessment. Throughout the dispute, and ever since the Reagan plan was proposed, we have constantly urged with all our strength at presidential level, at Secretary of State level and at every other level, the urgent need for the United States of America to use its influence to bring about a change in approach by Israel. In particular, it is very regrettable that there has not yet even been a withdrawal of all forces from the Lebanon, which King Hussein and other Arab countries regard as an essential prerequisite before the process can begin. It is most regrettable that there has not been more flexibility on the part of Israel and, indeed, of the PLO. After all, the blame does not lie in one place. However, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we have made such representations in the strongest terms.

Mr. Russell Johnston

I am sorry to press the Foreign Secretary, but does he agree that the assassination of Mr. Sartawi shows that more extremist elements are coming to the fore in the PLO and that they will be even more encouraged unless action is taken on the West Bank? Will the right hon. Gentleman bring that, in the strongest possible terms, to the attention of President Reagan, who appears to be the only one with any influence over Mr. Begin?

Mr. Pym

That murder was a deplorable incident and is regretted, I believe, by everybody. I am not sure whether it is true that more terrorism is coming to the fore, but there is certainly a risk of that, and the murder was a very bad example. However, there are divisions within the PLO which make that side of the negotiations extremely difficult. It is a matter of the utmost regret that the PLO was unable, in the end, to come to an agreement with King Hussein, because that would have been a very helpful aspect of the progress in the negotiations.

Mr. Walters

Has my right hon. Friend noted the comment by General Eitan threatening to set up 100 new illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank and his comment that the Arabs would then be like drugged cockroaches running round in a bottle? Is not such a continuing blatant disregard of international law and racist attitude the real reason for the breakdown in peace negotiations?

Mr. Pym

A number of people on both sides make some rather rash comments that are in no way helpful. I would not say more about the comment that my hon. Friend has mentioned, but I share the view of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) that the proposal to increase the number of settlements on the West Bank by 57 was very offensive at the time and in the circumstances that it was made. The British Government's view is that those settlements are illegal and are certainly completely contrary to the Reagan plan. The sooner the proposal is reversed, the better.

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