HC Deb 10 May 1989 vol 152 cc850-2
8. Mr. Andrew MacKay

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

Mr. Waldegrave

We continue to believe that a settlement of the Arab-Israel dispute must be based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and that an international conference, at the right time, will be necessary. We look forward to discussing with Mr. Shamir how his proposal for elections in the occupied territories can contribute to this process when he visits the United Kingdom later this month.

Mr. MacKay

As the PLO appears belatedly to have recognised the existence of the state of Israel, does my hon. Friend agree that it is now not inconceivable that at some appropriate time in the future our Prime Minister might meet Mr. Arafat?

Mr. Waldegrave

We unequivocally welcome the steps forward that have been taken by the PLO. As my right hon. and learned Friend told my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) on 8 February, we are certainly ready to promote further meetings when they can serve a useful purpose.

Mr. Ernie Ross

Under exactly what conditions would the Prime Minister be prepared to meet Yasser Arafat?

Mr. Waldegrave

Any upgrading of meetings would undoubtedly involve my right hon. and learned Friend before they would involve the Prime Minister. The principle on which we have taken such steps has been that they should be seen to be carrying the peace process forward. Meetings should not take place just for the sake of having meetings.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Does my hon. Friend agree that the middle east peace process is certainly not helped by extremist exhortations to violence emanating from Tehran? In connection with that, what steps is my hon. Friend taking to prepare an international cohesive response and to prepare the necessary contingency measures?

Mr. Waldegrave

I have no doubt that the condemnation of the whole House, the European Community and nations throughout the world has been clear. Incidentally, there has been a clear rejection of Mr. Rafsanjani's remarks by Mr. Arafat and by the PLO for, which I thanked Mr. Bassam abu Sharif, Mr. Arafat's representative, when he was in London recently. We are taking steps within the Community, with our allies and with other friendly countries to get the widest and clearest possible rejection of that intolerable threat.

Mr. Nellist

Given that the weekend saw the bloodiest single day's fighting in the 18-month intifada against Israel's occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip, with four deaths, 343 injuries, including 147 gunshot wounds, the youngest of which was to a seven-month-old baby, has not the time come for the Government to respond as sharply as they have done in the past to Libya and to Iran and to cancel the state visit of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir which is due in 10 days' time?

Mr. Waldegrave

That would be exactly the wrong step to take. Without in any way disagreeing with the hon. Gentleman that the events in Gaza over the weekend were, as our statement at the time said, deplorable and another step downwards, that would make the whole situation worse. At a time when there is just a glimmer of light and a proposal on the table from Mr. Shamir, it is surely right for us to follow the example of the PLO and to try to make something of that statement and to make progress on the basis of what, I recognise, is a minimal proposal. It would be better to do that than to slam the door and not talk.

Mr. Rhodes James

As my hon. Friend is aware, I am a strong friend of Israel, but I have been and remain highly critical of certain actions of the Israeli Government, especially the brutal and indefensible response to the intifada. However, that having been said, does my hon. Friend agree that there are now clear signs that the Israeli Government are responding to the criticisms from inside as well as outside Israel and that they are moving towards negotiation? Surely that should be welcomed and encouraged.

Mr. Waldegrave

Any signs of movement towards negotiation by the Israeli Government will receive not only the support of Her Majesty's Government but, I am sure, that of the whole House. It is to investigate whether there are such signs and to encourage any that exist that it is right for us to welcome Mr. Shamir here.

Mr. Winnick

While I accept the essential need for Israel to recognise the realities and start negotiations with the PLO, should not steps taken by European countries over the latest incitement to mass murder from the Iranian regime be effective, unlike on the previous occasion?

Is it not the case that, to a large extent, Iran is the ringleader of international terrorism, while at home it engages in the murder of political opponents? Is it not time for the international community to recognise that much more needs to be done to punish and isolate this terrorist regime?

Mr. Waldegrave

I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman. We in this country can say to some of our colleagues, friends and allies round the world, "We told you so." After the Salman Rushdie affair we urged people to take seriously the irresponsible threats from Iran—some did and some did not. Those who did not now seem to stand indicted. In the face of this further threat the civilised international community must surely unite in practical condemnation.

Mr. Michael Marshall

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comment about an earlier question in which the Yasser Arafat meeting was mentioned. Will he take on board the fact that when Yasser Arafat was invited to the IPU conference in Budapest in March, it was felt that the exchanges that followed were valuable. When parliamentarians and western journalists considered matters such as the responsibility for the Lockerbie air disaster it resulted in some fruitful discussion.

Mr. Waldegrave

My hon. Friend is quite right. Such meetings between parliamentarians, journalists and other concerned citizens across the sectarian divide are extremely useful. A useful meeting was held at Ditchley over the weekend.

Mr. Kaufman

When Ministers meet Mr. Shamir when he comes to London this month, will they voice the dismay of the House at the daily toll of killings and repression in the Israeli occupied territories? Will they tell him that the House of Commons condemns the Israeli policy that brings about such killings and repression? Will they ask Mr. Shamir why, when the Israeli Government calls for the renunciation by the PLO of its charter and Mr. Arafat then makes a statement of renunciation, instead of welcoming it, the Israeli Government brush it aside, as they do every concession that Mr. Arafat has made? Will they tell Mr. Shamir that his excuses and the patience of the world are running out?

Mr. Waldegrave

Yes, Sir. When we do so, we shall do so with all the greater strength because of the unity shown by the House.

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