HC Deb 29 July 1988 vol 138 cc799-810 10.15 am
Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

I am grateful for this opportunity to refer to the situation in Palestine and to congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on his new appointment, which I know he will enjoy and in which he will certainly excel.

It is now eight months since the commencement of the current unrest in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza—the "intifada" as it is known by the Palestinians. The unrest in December was spontaneous, but it had been long predicted. Since Israel replaced Jordan and Egypt as the occupying power in 1967, the Palestinians have become increasingly frustrated by the lack of any prospect of a settlement which would respect their right to self-determination. Demonstrations, the detention of young Palestinians and curfews in the refugee camps were nothing new, but when last year's Arab summit in Amman and the super-power summit in Washington appeared totally to ignore the Palestinian cause, the situation was ripe to explode.

Today, following 200 deaths, thousands of injuries and thousands more people detained without trial, the uprising is becoming organised—by Palestinians internally, by the Palestine Liberation Organisation externally, but more worrying in terms of the future stability of the middle east, by Islamic fundamentalist groups for whom this is the beginning of a long overdue Jihad, or holy war, inspired by the Ayatollah and aimed at the destruction not just of the Jewish state of Israel but of King Hussein, President Mubarak and the Arab kings, most of whom were touring the capitals of the world earlier this year urging a settlement. The need for a settlement has never been greater. Ironically, despite the failure of the Shultz initiative, the prospects for success has never been greater because it is in everyone's interests.

While the intifada has kept Palestinian demands in the forefront of the world media, as it is designed to do, the situation of the real, innocent victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict—the 2.2 million registered refugees—has re-mained much the same for the past 40 years. These are the families who were first displaced in 1948. Some of them have been displaced several times since. They inhabit the most basic accommodation—shelters which can be regarded only as temporary—and are therefore homeless and stateless. They are denied effective freedom of travel, to the continuing distress of families who remain divided. Their situation can be described only as a continuing international scandal and immediate responsibility lies with the countries involved which have failed to make a settlement possible.

Last year, the Council of Europe committee for migration, refugees and demography appointed me its rapporteur on the subject of the Palestinian refugees and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. In March this year I visited 10 refugee camps in Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza. A visit to Lebanon was clearly impossible at that time. I had meetings with Israeli and Jordanian Ministers and officials, the International Committee of the Red Cross, officers of the Israeli defence forces, who are the civil administration in the occupied territories, the PLO representative in Amman, as well as numerous briefings from UNRWA staff in the host countries and later at its headquarters in Vienna. I also had informal meetings with other Israelis and Palestinians and with the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem. I visited the Maqassed hospital on the mount of olives in east Jerusalem and the Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza, where the victims of the violence are being treated. Earlier this month, I presented my report to the committee. My hon. Friend the Minister has a copy of it. Its recommendations will be discussed in September and put to the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe in October.

Needless to say, during my visit to Palestine I was able to see at first hand the results of the uprising in the occupied territories, and I did not like what I saw. I saw the hardship experienced by refugee families. The curfews are causing unemployment, loss of income, shortages of food and acute pressure on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency's relief services. The prevention of out-patient services leads, for example, to the denial of medical treatment for diabetics, or psychiatric services or other social support for families who are suffering from understandable anxiety and depression. The breakdown of municipal services in the camps, such as refuse and sewage collection, is leading to growing squalor, and that is threatening hygiene.

The schools on the West Bank were closed in February and opened briefly in June, only to be closed again. The closure is keeping children at home, and anyone seen looking out of a window at curfew risks a beating or worse. In the hospitals, there are patients with broken arms and other limbs as a result of beatings. The victims include young children. In the hospitals one sees the effects of rubber bullets with metal cores that have disfigured babies. There are shattered limbs and paralysed bodies of young men who have been struck by high-velocity M16 bullets. One sees the effects of CS gas on mothers, such as premature births or abortions. For babies there is death by asphyxiation or the longer term fear of paralysis.

Many of the victims are people who have chosen to demonstrate or who are being exploited to demonstrate and who know what they risk. I am aware of that. The others are innocents who merely got in the way. I saw for myself how quickly a demonstration could explode into violence, but for the prompt action of UNRWA officials. It was an extremely frightening experience, and it is one that is happening every day. I have some sympathy for the Israeli soldiers who face these conditions. Soldiers in that sort of environment require proper training in riot control and the right equipment. It requires immense discipline and self-control. As we know, that is not always evident.

In my report, I have no hesitation in paying tribute to the professionalism and dedication of UNRWA, without which the situation for the refugees would undoubtedly be many times worse. Without its stabilising influence, the presence of so many Palestinians in the host countries would be the cause of even greater tension and confrontation, especially in the Lebanon and the occupied territories. I look forward to learning whether my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) shares my views, should he catch your eye during the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

There are four other observations that are highly relevant to any political solution to the Palestinian problem but which appear to be overlooked. First, in the occupied territories and in Jordan, 40 per cent. of the population is under 20 years of age. Unemployment is rising and job opportunities are falling. This is caused in the West Bank and Gaza by the unrest, and in Jordan by the effects of the recession in neighbouring Arab oil-producing countries. Moreover, the Arab birth rate is 3.5 per cent. That means that there is a demographic time-bomb ticking away, which Israel especially ignores at its peril. Thus, there is an immediate need for international economic aid and initiatives for the area.

Secondly, I was extremely impressed by the experience and professionalism of UNRWA's Palestinian staff, which represents by far the majority of its work force. These are the administrators, teachers, doctors, nurses, medical officers, social workers and engineers. Thus, there exist, together with those Palestinians who operate the Israeli agriculture and rural development services, and those Palestinians who undertake the non-military activities of the PLO, such as education and health programmes, and others who run the factories in the Lebanon, many thousands of experienced personnel who would be available immediately to run the civil services and local government services of any new Palestinian state, autonomous, demilitarised or otherwise, that arises from a settlement.

Thirdly, during the past 20 years of occupation, Israel has improved the education, health and employment opportunities of the Palestinians which it had inherited from Jordan and Egypt. Israel has encouraged the Palestinians to administer the municipalities. It has pursued, without much recognition, a programme of resettlement for refugees with the aim of replacing the camps. However, I could not fail to note the stark contrast between the affluence of the recently established Jewish settlements and the poverty of the refugee camps nearby. To me, that was not acceptable. I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick), who has visited the area, should he catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Finally, I cannot ignore what I have heard from every Palestinian whom I have met, refugee or resident, or UNRWA official in Syria, Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank. It is said that the PLO, for all its faults, speaks for them, and that only the PLO will be allowed to speak for them and to represent them at any attempt to produce a settlement. In other words, the PLO is the key to any settlement; and, if it is sincere, it should publicly abandon its covenant and commitment to terrorism and accept Israel's right to exist, from which so much can follow. I shall be glad to learn the views of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) on this issue, should he catch your eye during the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

What now are the prospects for a settlement? Regrettably, it appears that the Shultz initiative has failed. We should pay tribute to the dogged refusal of the American Secretary of State to accept defeat, and the tireless energy and diplomacy he has displayed during his many visits between Amman, Cairo, Damascus and Jerusalem. It would seem now that there can be no progress until Israel's general election in November, following which a new American Administration will be elected, which is bound to have other priorities next year. The immediate humanitarian problem cannot wait that long. There are initiatives that can be taken now to relieve the situation for the refugees, which my report recommends.

First, there should be immediate support for UNRWA's plans to improve infrastructure, such as drains, roads, health services and relief for hardship families in the camps in the Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, which the United Nations Secretary-General urged on 21 January.

Secondly, there should be an immediate response to the Secretary-General's request for a commitment on the part of United Nations member states to a small but regular increase in their contributions to UNRWA's budget so that it can plan ahead more effectively. Council of Europe member states, the United States and Canada contribute almost 70 per cent. of UNRWA's budget. We should be urging the Arab oil-producing states to increase their contributions, which now total 2 per cent., and appeal to the Soviet Union, to Eastern Europe and to all the other industrial states which contribute nothing to recognise the current situation and to reverse their policy on humanitarian grounds.

Thirdly, we should urge Israel to accept the de jure applicability of the Geneva convention of 12 August 1949, to which it is a high contracting party, fully to comply with its obligations to ensure the protection of civilians, including UNRWA staff, in the occupied territories.

None of this, of course, can be any substitute for that comprehensive and lasting political judgment that is necessary for a just resolution of the refugee problem, or, indeed, for peace, security, stability and co-operation to be established in Palestine for the first time.

Earlier this year, the standing committee of the Council of Europe agreed to the holding of a parliamentary conference in Strasbourg early next year, with representatives of all the countries that would be participating in a possible middle east peace conference. Employing as it would the Council of Europe's own special parliamentary relations with the Knesset, the United States Congress, its long established contacts with Arab states and organisations and its recently established relationship with the supreme Soviet, it was felt that such a European initiative could overcome existing reservations and help to create a climate of confidence necessary for talks to convene.

It is the policy of all parties in this House that such talks should take place within the context of an international conference, but, of course, for that to take place the presence of Israel is required. We should not ignore the reasons for the Israeli Prime Minister's refusal to put his country in such a dock of world opinion or not even to contemplate the withdrawal from the occupied territories. After all, he may well remain Israel's Prime Minister after November.

We should not ignore that what the Camp David process achieved before, when it brought peace between Israel and Egypt and withdrawal from Sinai, can be achieved again as it already provides for peace with Jordan and an autonomous state of Palestine.

If an international conference proves impossible, let us recognise that a prospect for success exists through lower profile, low-level negotiations between Isreal, Jordan and Palestinians, acceptable to Israel and the PLO—such people exist—to produce a programme of measures to bring the present unrest to an end. Such a programme would restore Palestinian administration to the area and replace the present Israeli civil administration—the Israeli defence forces—with a United Nations one. We should remember that the UN is already present in the area because of UNRWA. The negotiations should seek to establish an economic development area with international aid and support from which a confederation of states could be built. I believe that that may well prove to be the practical way forward to restore confidence between Arab and Jew which will, in due course, lead to a lasting peace in the middle east.

10.31 am
Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

I extend my thanks to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) not only for raising this matter, but especially for kindly sparing me a little of his time to put a case that might otherwise not be heard and to raise a voice from the Labour Benches.

First, I join the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East in welcoming the appointment of the new Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I, too, believe that he will approach middle east problems with the recognition that they are complex, difficult and anxious. At the same time, I express my unreserved delight at the departure of the hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) from the same job. His going is greatly welcomed by all who are friends of Israel. If a Minister wishes to contribute to diplomacy, he must do so with understanding, with tact and even with a little affection for the country and for the area. When dealing with Israel, the hon. and learned Member for Putney showed that he had none of those qualities.

I join the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East in expressing my anguish at the misery of the people who live on the West Bank and in Gaza. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman recognises that the refugee camps in which Palestinians are condemned to be born, to live and often to die, were not the creation of Israel. The continuation of the camps is not the wish of Israel and their operation is not in Israel's hands. I wish that something had been said about the absorption of many thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries by and in Israel. I echo his call for Arab nations to provide far more aid for their own brethren than they have seen fit to do in the past. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern at the riots that have taken place, but I am sure that, in fairness, he would recognise that no country, including our own, could allow unbridled riots to continue within any country, area, or territory under its control, for whatever reason. Certainly, we are not in a good position to preach to others about the control of riots and death when we have signally failed to do so in Northern Ireland, part of our own United Kingdom.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is right to seek for peace in the region and to do what we can to contribute towards it. As the hon. Gentleman hinted, he understands that one needs partners to a peace process, that all must be prepared to speak to the others. As the hon. Gentleman has said, the PLO can expect to be a partner in the peace process only if it is prepared to recognise the right of Israel to exist in security and if it will renounce violence against civilians as part of its policy. No country, including our own, would negotiate with any organisation which was not prepared to behave in that way. We will not negotiate with the IRA for precisely that reason.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East was right to point out the problems created in any country by elections and, not least, by the forthcoming ones in Israel. Elections produce results that a nation must accept, even if—in common with the British Labour party—we do not like what we have got.

I am aware that Conservative Members in the Chamber have visited the West Bank. When the House rises, I shall go to Jerusalem to the wedding of my daughter to a young Israeli. They and all who live there want peace more than anyone else. They, as much as anyone else, are anguished by the miseries of those who live on the West Bank and in Gaza. But they, as well as myself and the rest of the House, wish that an understanding of the complexity of the position should permeate our debates. In that way an understanding of the problems of Israel should follow in the speeches made in this House as it did not do in the speeches or in the behaviour of the previous Minister of State when he visited that area.

10.36 am
Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

How singularly appropriate that the House of Commons should have this chance to debate this grave issue before rising for the long summer recess, and how appropriate it is that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) should have an early chance to sample the flavour of the biggest problem that faces him at the Foreign Office. His Conservative predecessors were noted for the clarity of their perception and the boldness of their speech regarding intolerance, oppression and injustice. I have faith that my hon. Friend will follow that admirable tradition.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) for kindly giving me a few moments in this debate. I congratulate him on the rational, sensible way in which he set about preparing his report. It was no easy task, as some of us know. I also congratulate him on the admirable way in which he addressed the House this morning, and I agreed with so much of what he said.

Edmund Burke wrote: The use of force alone is but temporary. It may subdue for a moment; but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again; and a nation is not governed, which is perpetually to be conquered. I believe that, at this time, Palestine is perpetually being reconquered. The House is aware that Britain has a special responsibility in this matter because our predecessors twice promised the land. We are now faced with a double tragedy—the plight of the Palestinians and the present enormous damage being done to the reputation of the Jewish people.

I visited the West Bank and Gaza two years ago. The despair and degradation, mud and misery, and the loss of hope amid those sorry shacks of exile, made a very deep impression on me, particularly when I spoke to the extremely well-educated people I met there. UNRWA has done a marvellous job in that direction. The people there did not believe that they or their contemporaries had any future, apart from following the sorry path of violence.

I cannot claim to be surprised at recent events on the West Bank and Gaza where 270 people have been killed. The explosion had become inevitable. It so happened that the year I visited the West Bank and Gaza I also visited South Africa. In both countries there was dreadful repression of one community by another, the laws were framed to discriminate and that discrimination was backed with brutal force. I commend the work of UNRWA to the new Minister. Britain has a good record of supporting it financially. We supply many of its staff, some in high places. I hope that we will continue to fund it, perhaps on an increased basis.

I wish my hon. Friend the Minister good luck in achieving a slightly more realistic attitude towards the PLO. I blame the politicians, not the Foreign Office. I know that one of my hon. Friend's predecessors actually met the so-called Foreign Minister of the PLO. But whether I, my hon. Friend or the House like it or not, nine out of 10 Palestinians look to the PLO for support. If Britain is to play a serious part in the peace process, we must understand the arguments put forward by the representatives of the Palestinian people.

We would be wise to distance ourselves further from the United States in this matter. I am a great supporter of the United States, but its record on Palestine is most unfortunate. Without the vast sums of money which it gives to the state of Israel, particularly in regard to defence, that country would have had to design a foreign policy that encouraged it to talk to the Arabs on a proper and peaceful basis.

Finally, this seems to be a year in which peace is breaking out in Afghanistan and hopefully in the Gulf and in southern Africa. I hope that Britain will play a part in encouraging peace to break out in this area and that a Palestinian homeland will be created.

10.42 am
Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

I join other hon. Members in thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) for allowing me some time. I am very grateful to him. I also extend my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Minister, with whom I spent 175 hours on the Housing Bill Committee earlier this year. I am delighted to see him on the Front Bench.

My interest in the problems of Palestine began soon after my election. Before then I had very little interest in the matter, and I have tried to approach it in an objective way. I went to the occupied territory in February and saw things there that I did not like. When I came back I went to the Israeli embassy and said to the deputy ambassador that I would be happy to go out to Israel and see things from Israel's point of view. I am very disappointed that he did not take up my offer.

During my trip to the occupied territories I saw a great deal of misery. I cannot report anything else. The group of hon. Members from both sides of the House with whom I travelled were attacked and stoned in Gaza when we were mistaken for Israelis. A rock smashed against the windscreen, and I believe that had the window been open one of us easily could have been killed. We were held up by road blocks, and the general feeling in the occupied territories was of repression and fear. It was a most unpleasant experience.

I am delighted to hear that the daughter of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) is getting married in Jerusalem. I extend congratulations to a colleague from Leicestershire. I fear that he will not be able to take his daughter to many parts of Jerusalem. Because of the situation there, Israelis fear to venture into some parts of the city.

Many comparisons have been made. The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West made a comparison with the situaton in Northern Ireland. I served in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s and I was there a few weeks ago. The situation there is entirely different. The community is basically peaceful, with a few exceptions. The cities are beautiful and people can move around freely. In Northern Ireland there are local elections and hon. Members represent Northern Ireland in the House. That is more than can be said for the occupied territories. Hon. Members may recall that the last elections held in Gaza were in 1945 under the British mandate.

I was in East Germany last year. One could draw a comparison there, but I found the movement of personnel around East Germany a great deal easier than it was in the occupied territories. The predecessor of my hon. Friend the Minister referred to South Africa and drew some comparison there. I thought that that was misguided. I went to university in South Africa. I was at business school there in the 1970s, and my friends there tell me that the situation has eased enormously. Hillbrow district in Johannesburg and parts of Cape Town are now multi-racial. That is in stark contrast to the situation in Israel and the occupied territories, where the demarcation lines are tighter than ever. When I was there, the demarcation line was rigidly enforced and only so called "settlers" from Israel crossed into the occupied territories.

Does the occupation make any sense for Israel? It costs a fortune and it stretches Israeli forces. The military increasingly believe that it is unnecessary. Indeed, 75 to 80 per cent. of the present general staff believe "that the danger to Israel from maintaining control of the territories and their population is much greater than the risk involved in surrendering them." The long-term implications are disastrous for Israel. Demographically, if Israel hangs on to greater Israel it will be outnumbered and, of course, that will create a very serious problem for it. If it reduces that demographic imbalance it will have to "transfer" Palestinians. "Transfer" is a euphemism for transportation, and I should have thought that that was deeply repugnant to anyone with any Jewish sympathies.

Altogether, the negative impact on Israel at home is far outweighed by the negative impact that has been created for Israel abroad. Never mind what is happening in the occupied territories; consider what it has done to Israel's reputation abroad. I am told that at Foreign Office Question Time in the House Israel used to make all the running, but now most Members believe that Israel is wrong.

The British press is respected worldwide and its attitude permeates across the world. I spoke to a senior British diplomat serving in our Washington embassy and asked him about the state of opinion in the Jewish community in America. He said that it was one of "anguish."

I believe that a Right-wing Government will be elected in Israel. In the short term that will be bad for the occupied territory, but in the long term it may be for the best. Only a Right-wing Government can commit the disastrous policies necessary to generate the kind of change of American public opinion that is needed to force a solution for the West Bank. That has to be the withdrawal of Israeli forces.

10.47 am
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. William Waldegrave)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) for initiating the debate and giving me such an early opportunity to join this passionate discussion. I must be forgiven just a touch of nostalgia as I listened to my hon. Friend for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier) winding-up the previous debate for the Department in which I served for five years, and expatiating on the redevelopment of maggot farms in Wakefield—a very different matter from the debate to which I now have the privilege to contribute.

My Department greatly values the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East in the Council of Europe. The debate will be a very useful part of my education in these matters, and I warmly commend it to the House. I am grateful for his careful and constructive analysis. My hon. Friends and the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), have with admirable brevity, outlined the underlying issues and the passions that lie behind them. I cannot yet match their knowledge and experience, but I look forward to visiting the region before too long.

All right hon. and hon. Members who visited the occupied territories—the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West will not disagree with this—were shocked by the conditions there, especially on the Gaza strip and in the camps. The Government share the concerns that have been expressed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East was right to acknowledge that matters have improved in some respects since the Israeli occupation began in 1967. Universities have been established on the West Bank and health services have been extended. Despite the evident need and misery in the occupied territories, the Israeli authorities have allocated Iand—including one third of the area of the Gaza strip—and immense resources to the establishment and expansion of illegal settlements. My hon. Friend referred to the stark contrast between the Israelis' affluence and the neighbouring camps' poverty.

I join hon. Members in paying tribute to the vital work done by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in providing services—mainly health and education—to the 2 million registered refugees and the professionalism and dedication of its staff, which includes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) said, many Britons. They have carried out their duties faithfully in extremely difficult and often dangerous conditions, notably in Lebanon and more recently in Gaza and the West Bank.

We fully support the recommendation of the United Nations Secretary-General for an expansion of UNRWA's work, and we shall be establishing a new unit in UNRWA to assess that requirement. New resources will be required. We have increased our direct contribution to UNRWA's annual budget to £5.25 million, in addition to our contribution of almost £5 million through the European Community.

Our main objective, during our presidency of the UNRWA Advisory Commission, which began this month, will be to encourage others to contribute generously and to support the efforts of the commissioner-general to persuade those who do not contribute to do so.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East knows, we are already giving bilateral aid, which last year amounted to about £840,000, to the occupied territories through non-governmental organisations of one kind or another, and we are contributing to European Community programmes. Our focus has been on the training of Palestinians and health and welfare projects in co-operation with NGOs. My hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development has announced a new grant of £100,000 to the St. John's eye hospital, to which my hon. Friend referred. That has been made for outreach services in Gaza.

We are encouraging Palestinian businesses by supporting a programme run by the non-governmental organisation, Cooperation for Development, to provide loans for small businesses. The organisers report that demand for loans has increased as conventional commercial sources of finance have dried up.

We should, however, like to do more. The disturbances in the occupied territories have delayed our plans to disburse additional aid through Jordanian institutions. We are reviewing how that aid can be effectively disbursed.

We played a leading role in promoting preferential access to the European Community for Palestinian producers. We welcome the assurances that Mr. Peres gave at the Europan Co-operation Council in May that the remaining difficulties have been resolved. Some contracts have been signed to supply produce from the occupied territories to outlets in Europe. We shall monitor closely how these arrangements work in practice.

Although those improvements in economic conditions are important, they will not reduce the deep despair and frustration of Palestinians in the occupied territories, which led to the present disturbances. No one doubts that the stifling of economic activity, to protect Israeli industry, and the innumerable restrictions and petty humiliations —which my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East said were being inflicted on people who are regarded as second class; in short, the occupation itself—provoked the inevitable reaction. We do not believe that the uprising was organised from the outside, and the extent of outside influence should not be exaggerated. It was a spontaneous and inevitable upsurge of protest aganst the occupation. Its momentum is maintaned primarily by young people in the occupied territories. This problem has been compounded by Israeli tactics, such as excessive use of force by soldiers who are not trained for such tasks and deportations and collective punishment contrary to international law. We surely all condemn such measures.

We acknowledge Israel's responsibility, pending its withdrawal, to maintain order in the occupied territories, but the responsibility must be discharged in accordance with international law and human rights standards. The Geneva convention applies to the occupied territories, and Israel should observe its provisions. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East that we have raised these problems with the Israelis on many occasions and they are well aware of our views. It is ironic that the Israelis should campaign, with our full support, for the human rights of Soviet Jews—I am aware of the honourable role that the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West has played in the campaign—but Israel must surely apply the same criteria to its treatment of Palestinians.

The suffering must be ended. Over 230 Palestinians and three Israelis have been killed since the uprising began. Many more have been injured, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East gave a graphic account of the horrors that he saw.

Thousands of Palestinians have been detained without trial. Personal grievances and hatreds are multiplying; violence breeds violence. If the extremists have their way, violence will continue. Violence and repression will never solve the underlying problems of the region.

The uprising has surely forced all concerned to accept that the status quo is unsustainable. Israelis and Palestinians are fated by history and geography to live together. If they are to do so in peace, it will have to be on a basis of mutual recognition and respect. Each side must be prepared to accord the other the rights that it claims for itself.

Nothing could make a greater contribution at this stage —I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West about this—than unambiguous acceptance by the PLO leadership of Israel's right to a secure existence, of Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, and of the renunciation of violence. We welcome the recent paper by Bassam Abu Sherif, who is a PLO spokesman, as a constructive move in the right direction, especially its acceptance of Israel's right to exist and, conditionally, the Security Councils resolutions. We regret that it has not yet been endorsed.

We hope that the PLO and the leaders of the uprising will grasp the nettle and commit themselves wholeheartedly to the search for a negotiated solution. We recognise that the PLO commands widespread suppport among Palestinians, and we said in the Venice declaration that it should be associated with the peace negotiations. The Israelis cannot be expected to accept the PLO as a negotiating partner while the PLO's policies on the key issues of violence and Israel's right to a secure existence remain ambiguous.

We look to the Israeli leadership to develop forward-looking and constructive policies that will lay the foundations for a proper and peaceful relationship between the people of the region. The electorate will shortly have an opportunity to signal a clear interest in peace; it is vital that they take it.

Our own views are well known. A just and lasting settlement of the Arab-Israel conflict must be based on the right of all states in the region, including Israel, to a secure existence within recognised borders and of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. We continue to believe that the best way forward is an international conference, under United Nations auspices, as a framework for the necessary negotiations between the parties directly concerned. It should not have the power to impose solutions or to veto agreements between the parties. Such a conference would offer an opportunity to negotiate a just and lasting settlement. It is not a trap and no man of good will need fear it.

The understanding last year between Mr. Peres and King Hussein offers a good foundation. The need is to build on that and to persuade others in Israel and the Arab world not to squander the opportunity. King Hussein's commitment to the search for peace is not in doubt and Jordan's role, given the length of her border with Israel, will remain crucial. A lasting peace will require Palestinian and Syrian participation. The time has come for both to accept the challenge of making peace.

Israelis must be prepared to make some concession and accept the principle of territory for peace. Peace will require compromise from both sides, and both will have to give up long-cherished but unattainable objectives. Neither historical Palestine nor Eretz Israel can be the basis of a modern state, except at the price of perpetual conflict.

The American role—in this context, I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East to some extent—is clearly vital. We warmly welcomed its active re-engagement in the peace process earlier this year. There are many constructive elements in Mr. Schultz's proposals, including a commitment to an international conference and proposals for early elections in the occupied territories. His proposed timetable for negotiations was rightly ambitious, and has not been implemented.

I welcome the initiative by the Council of Europe to hold a parliamentary conference in Strasbourg next year. Such contacts between parties can only be helpful. We affirmed as long ago as the Venice declaration in June 1980 our willingness to participate in guaranteeing an eventual settlement. We stand by that commitment. In the last resort, peace must be made by those directly involved. They will have our full support as they face that challenge. We know how difficult it will be, but that difficulty is no reason to postpone the necessary action.

Mr. Janner

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Have you received notification of an application for a statement from the Secretary of State for Employment concerning the employment implications of the announcement made this morning of further redundancies and closures at Corah plc, which is a major employer in my, constituency? Corah announced 750 redundancies just a short time ago, it has announced 200 more today, and there is no guarantee that there will not be further redundancies in the future. As that major company, which was once a great and stable family company, is suffering in a way that is symptomatic of the general misery and continued recession in the hosiery and knitwear trades and industries in the east midlands, surely there must be some statement from the Government before the House rises.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Mr. Speaker has received no application for a statement to be made. However, I have no doubt that the hon. and learned Gentleman's points will be noted.

Mr. Tredinnick

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to draw your attention to the fact that employees at Corah in Leicestershire come from areas beyond Leicester city. My constituency of Bosworth, with its principal town of Hinckley, has many hosiery and knitwear workers who share the concern about circumstances at Corah. I am concerned that there may be a disturbing ripple effect in Hinckley.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's points will be noted.