HC Deb 12 April 1989 vol 150 cc893-5
5. Mr. Sumberg

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on recent progress made towards achieving a settlement in the middle east.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

There have been a number of positive developments—the PLO's renunciation of terrorism, Israel's recognition that the status quo is untenable, the constructive attitude of the Soviet Union, and the determination of the United States to work actively for a settlement.

We continue to believe that an international conference remains the most suitable framework for negotiations between the parties.

Mr. Sumberg

Bearing in mind the sale of bombers to Libya, the continuing civil conflict in the Lebanon and the tragedy of Lockerbie, is not the caution and scepticism of the Government of Israel at the PLO's renunciation of violence understandable? Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that just as he would be cautious if the IRA were to announce tomorrow that it had renounced the bomb and the bullet, Israel has understandable reasons for taking a cautious view of events in the middle east?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have explained to the House on more than one occasion my understanding of that. The length of time before the PLO made the important concessions to which I referred is certainly a ground for caution on the part of Israel. However, the Israeli people and Government have to understand that although we are committed to Israel's right to a secure existence, we are also committed to the view that Israel's security can be achieved only through peace with all her neighbours. Above all, Israelis cannot deny to the Palestinians the rights that they themselves have earned at such cost. Repression of Palestinians breeds resentment and hatred, which is the exact opposite of security. Fortunately, more and more Israelis understand that fact, as does the overwhelming body of opinion in the House. The search for peace along those lines deserves—and is receiving—the active support of more and more Israelis.

Mr. Ernie Ross

Can the Foreign Secretary tell us of one positive result of the most recent visit by the Israeli Prime Minister to the United States?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The proposals put forward by Mr. Shamir for elections may point in the right direction and are worth exploring in detail without dismissing them out of hand. It is also important to emphasise the statement made by President Bush after his talks with President Mubarak that The goals of the peace process should be security for Israel, the end of the occupation and the achievement of Palestinian political rights That statement should be studied carefully in Israel as it is important to the progress of the negotiations.

Sir Dennis Walters

Bearing in mind among other reasons the continuing oppression and violation of human rights by the Israelis on the West Bank and Gaza, is not the hesitancy and slowness of the Bush Administration rather disappointing? Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that he is doing everything in his power to put some speed into the Americans by pointing out that the problem has continued for a very long time and that excessive caution is a mistake?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend is right to emphasise that the United States engagement in the peace process is absolutely vital. That means that the new Administration must take a leading role, and we shall certainly support them in that role. We have already made our position plain. I shall be going to Washington at the weekend to discuss the topic along the lines suggested by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Janner

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that the making of peace in the middle east is a very complex matter? Those of us who are desperately anxious that the parties should be brought together in negotiation recognise the sensitivities of both sides, not least the anxiety of all Israelis in their genuine democracy that their country should be safe from attack, their worries about the dangers that a Palestinian state on the West Bank and in Gaza would create, and their fears that a terrorist enemy which now says that it has renounced terrorism cannot be trusted with the lives of their people.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand fully the point articulated by the hon. and learned Gentleman, namely Israel's anxiety that it should not take steps that might weaken rather than enhance its security, and I understand why that rests against a background of threats to the security of that state. However, it is Israeli opinion that is emphasising that the status quo cannot be maintained and is recognising the need to move forward. Time is not on the side of those who seek a peaceful solution, whether they be in Israel or among the Palestinians. The Israeli leadership and people must recognise, for example, the impact upon the other side of the sheer arithmetic of 420 Palestinians having been killed in the occupied territories compared with only 13 Israelis. That balance of hardship and human suffering cannot be allowed to endure indefinitely. For their own sake, the Israelis must respond to the mounting sense of urgency about the situation.