HC Deb 19 October 1988 vol 138 cc875-7
4. Mr. Ernie Ross

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last discussed with the Prime Minister of Israel the case for an international conference to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian question.

Mr. Waldegrave

My right hon. and learned Friend last met Mr. Shamir in September 1986. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) discussed the Arab-Israeli dispute with him in January. The Israeli Government know that we continue to support an international conference.

Mr. Ross

Does the Minister agree that the most recent statement by Mr. Peres, that an Israeli Labour Government would hold elections on the West Bank and in Gaza so that the Palestinian people could choose their own representatives, and his commitment to an international peace conference offer much more hope than Mr. Yitzhak Shamir, who seems impervious to international criticism and domestic acrimony about the policies that his party is producing in Israeli?

Mr. Waldegrave

It is true that the policy of the Labour party in Israel is much closer to that of Her Majesty's Government. We welcome that recent statement, but, of course, it would be quite wrong for me to comment on an election in another country.

Sir Dennis Walters

Has my hon. Friend recently made any representations to the Israeli Government about the brutality and repression in the occupied West Bank? Is he aware that the civilian toll of casualties among Palestinian adults and children is steadily growing? Is this not absolutely intolerable?

Mr. Waldegrave

I recently protested to the retiring Israeli ambassador, Mr. Avner, about the use of plastic bullets. I think my hon. Friend understands that these are not baton rounds, but plastic bullets fired by high explosive charges. We registered a protest, as did the United States Government, about the casualties caused by those plastic bullets. The Israeli Government know very well that Her Majesty's Government believe that they are sleep walking to disaster by their treatment of the people in the occupied territories.

Mr. Janner

Does the Minister accept that however much we may fervently hope for the election of one Prime Minister or one party or the other in Israel on 1 November, electors in a democracy, including our own, sometimes make mistakes? It is important to recognise that that is about the only country in the area where free elections are held and that our Government will have to get on and try to make peace with any Government whom the Israeli electors see fit to elect.

Mr. Waldegrave

Any group or any party in Israel that comes forward with practical plans for peace will get the full support of this Government.

Mr. Lawrence

Is it not more urgent and important than an international conference that the Arab states should be able to provide a leader who can guarantee security and peace for Israel in any peace settlement that is negotiated with the Israelis?

Mr. Waldegrave

I do not know whether waiting for leaders is relevant. What is impressive is the solidarity of the people in the occupied territories, which expresses very clearly their desire for self-determination.

Mr. Kaufman

In welcoming the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities and hoping that his statement of views on the middle east will not lead to his speedy removal from those responsibilities, may I put it to him that the flexibility now emanating from the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the voices of peace from Arab Governments are being prevented from achieving the possibility of an international conference and real peace by the obduracy of the Likud party in Israel? Will he join the Prime Minister, the United States Administration, President Mubarak and all other sensible people in every part of the world who believe that the only hope of breaking the deadlock and getting peace in the middle east is a Labour victory in Israel on 1 November?

Mr. Waldegrave

I noted that when addressing the Socialist group of the European Parliament Mr. Arafat said that he hoped for the emergence of an Israeli de Gaulle. I hope that he and everyone else, including the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), will respond to any practical proposals for peace, from whatever political spectrum they come.

Mr. Tredinnick

Does the Minister agree that a settlement in the occupied territories is very much in Israel's interests because of the increased birth rate among Arabs west of the Jordan, which will lead to the outnumbering of Jews early in the next century?

Mr. Waldegrave

I think that what my hon. Friend says is right. More profoundly, surely the tragedy for Israel is that those of us, many of whom are in this House, who have protested about the actions of Israel are her friends. The tragedy for Israel is the way in which it is corrupting itself by its treatment of people in the occupied territories.