HC Deb 20 July 1983 vol 46 cc359-60
1. Dr. M. S. Miller

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he has any plans to visit Israel or Arab states in the near future.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

I have at present no such plans.

Dr. Miller

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his reply, but does he not think that he should visit the middle east? When he does, will he take with him a copy of an interview published in The Guardian on 4 July between David Hirst, the middle east correspondent of The Guardian and Abu Musa, leader of the rebel Palestinian sect in the armed struggle going on within the Palestine Liberation Organisation, in which the rebel leader reaffirmed his commitment to the Palestine national charter, which calls for the elimination of Israel? Does that not present the Israelis with only two possible courses of action—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."]

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must have shorter supplementary questions, please.

Dr. Miller

Does that not pose the Israelis with only two courses of action—either they resist or they connive at their own suicide?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have in mind the desirability of visiting the area as soon as that can reasonably be managed. However, as the House will appreciate, a number of matters of considerable practical urgency occupy one's time during the second half of the year, including the United Nations General Assembly and the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, quite apart from the European work programme. The Government are in no doubt that the Palestinian people must play a full part in the negotiations on their future, but, on the other hand, we have long argued that the PLO should accept Israel's right to live in peace and renounce terrorism.

Mr. Lawrence

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take note of the fact that when our noble Friend Lord Carrington decided to visit Israel there followed a warming of relations between our two countries, which had the effect of making Israel far more receptive to the good ideas that come to it from this country than it ever is when there is coolness between us?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I shall bear my hon. and learned Friend's point in mind.

Mr. Ernie Ross

If the Foreign Secretary visits the middle east, will he reassure all those who are concerned about peace in the area that the PLO is committed to supporting the present leadership of Yasser Arafat, that those who are seeking to interfere with the independence of the PLO are doing so for their own ends, and that it is the Palestine national council that speaks on behalf of the Palestinians, not the rebels in the Beka'a valley?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I should hesitate to pronounce judgment on the present or future implications of what is happening in the PLO with as much confidence as does the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Marlow

Is not the attempt to extend the Jewish settlement in the Palestinian town of Hebron perhaps one of the most insensitive and callous political acts undertaken by any Government on the face of the earth at the moment? As the Americans seem unable to restrain the Israelis, what initiatives will my right hon. and learned Friend or the European Community be taking to stop the Israelis from colonising Palestine and the west bank?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend draws attention to an important matter, although I do not accept his premise that the Americans are unable or unwilling to attempt to restrain undesirable acts in that part of the world. He can rest assured that, together with our partners in the Ten, we shall continue to bring our influence to bear as far as we can.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Before the Foreign Secretary changes his mind and decides to visit Israel, will he inquire from the Government there what benefits, apart from producing virtual anarchy in the middle east, the unprovoked invasion by Israel of the Lebanor has produced?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It is because we understand the thinking behind the hon. Gentleman's question that we are doing all that we can to urge all parties to the Israel-Lebanon agreement to agree to an early withdrawal of their forces.

Mr. George Robertson

May I urge the Foreign Secretary to pay an early visit to the middle east, particularly in the light of the fragile relationships that exist in that area and the great danger to all of us that lies in that strain? Especially in the light of the increasing internal tensions within the PLO, is it not time that the British Government used some of their influence to break the log jam between the United States Government and the Government of the Soviet Union in an effort to ensure that the Soviet Union uses its influence in Syria to see that the Israel-Lebanon agreement is adhered to?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The House should not assume from the fact that I have not yet made plans to visit the area that I attach any less importance to the area and its problems than does the hon. Gentleman. He must understand that there are practical limitations that must dictate the timetable. Our potential influence there is of course limited, but, so far as we are able to do so, we shall continue to play the active part that our history and interests dictate in searching for a solution and pressing all the parties concerned to seek one.

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