HC Deb 10 January 1990 vol 164 cc925-8
1. Mr. Latham

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

3. Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Britain's contribution towards finding a diplomatic and peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

8. Mr. Alexander

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made in promoting peace in the middle east.

12. Mr. Robert Hicks

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he intends submitting any fresh proposals aimed at resolving the middle east problem; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. William Waldegrave)

We support the efforts being made to establish direct contact between Israel and a representative Palestinian delegation as an important step towards an overall settlement.

Mr. Latham

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment to the Privy Council.

Does not peace require a three-stage operation comprising, as my right hon. Friend said, an early meeting to take on board the Mubarak, Baker, Shamir proposals; elections on the West Bank and Gaza; and full negotiations with Israel and the Palestinians, obviously involving the Palestine Liberation Organisation, for a final settlement based on United Nations resolution 242?

Mr. Waldegrave

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words.

My hon. Friend has it exactly right when he says that ultimately, a multilateral peace conference will be needed. However, I was very pleased at a meeting with Bassam Abu Sharif of the PLO earlier this week to find that he was clear in his mind that the first important step is direct contact with the Israeli Government. Therefore, I support the order of events that my hon. Friend described.

Mr. Townsend

In a distinguished speech on 18 October last, my right hon. Friend stated that resentment in the occupied territories was growing and that there was no way that the Israeli authorities could suppress the aspirations of the people of those territories. Presuming that my right hon. Friend still believes that that is so, will he explain to the Israeli authorities without ceasing that it is very much in the interests of Israel itself to work quickly for a speedy solution of this long outstanding problem?

Mr. Waldegrave

I certainly still hold the views that. I expressed last October. I must place on record that the Israeli Government's latest step, which is to restrict the travel of a number of key Palestinian leaders at this particular moment, is most unfortunate. Powerful voices have been raised in Israel itself in support of the views expressed by my hon. Friend, and I hope that they will carry the day in due course.

Mr. Hicks

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if meaningful progress is to be made, sufficient pressure must be placed on the Israeli Government by the Americans, so that the objectives that we all seek can be achieved?

Mr. Waldegrave

The American President arid Secretary of State, and the American Government, are fully engaged in the process that my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) described earlier, and they are serious about bringing together in face-to-face talks for the first time representatives of the Israeli Government and a delegation from the Palestinians. It is right that they should do so. I believe that the Israelis are finding, perhaps to their surprise, that the Americans are serious in their diplomacy—which we strongly support.

Mr. Ernie Ross

Does the Minister join other right hon. and hon. Members in condemning the activities of the Israeli police in breaking up the peaceful demonstration in Jerusalem by 3,000 women on 29 December and by 15,000 Palestinians, Israelis and Europeans on 30 December—all of whom were endorsing a negotiated peace settlement? They should surely not have been attacked with night sticks, tear gas, rubber bullets and percussion bombs.

Mr. Waldegrave

We join the hon. Gentleman, as do many right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, in condemning the events to which he refers. They reinforce our belief that speed is of the essence in getting the negotiating process under way before yet more bitterness is created.

Mr. Janner

Does the Minister accept that the only route to a peaceful solution in the middle east, which is something that we all want, lies in the consent of both parties? Will the right hon. Gentleman use his influence with both sides and demonstrate that he understands the very real anxieties, worries and suspicions of the Israelis in respect of the PLO, which has been the Israelis' terrorist enemy for so long that it is difficult for them to make that organisation a partner in a peace process?

Mr. Waldegrave

I do not think that anyone should underestimate the difficulties for the Israelis, and the courage and the vision of those people in Israel who have taken steps to move forwards. Soon after I took office the hon. Gentleman gave me a book by Mr. Amos Oz, which sets out the fears and visions of what is possible. If only his vision were that of the Israeli Government.

Mr. Galloway

Is the Minister aware that one of the prominent individuals to whom he referred earlier who has been banned from travel, is Dr. Faisal Husseini? Anyone who knows anything about the area knows that Dr. Husseini's standing is such that he is indispensable to the peace process. Will the Minister join the United States of America's State Department utterly to condemn the decision to preclude him from overseas travel for the next three months or from any travel in the West Bank or Gaza, as that is a setback to any hope for a negotiated settlement in the area?

Mr. Waldegrave

I join the hon. Gentleman to make the condemnation that he asks for. I used words that I hope were fairly strong earlier today. I have talked with Dr. Husseini on several occasions and he is bound to be an indispensable part of any peace process, as are a number of other people who are under a travel ban, including some senior trade unionists.

Sir Dennis Walters

Does my right hon. Friend agree that progress towards a peace settlement remains painfully slow? In the meantime, conditions on the West Bank remain appalling. The PLO leadership, under Mr. Arafat in particular over the past few years, has shown great patience and statemanship. Is it not time for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to have a meeting with Mr. Arafat?

Mr. Waldegrave

When I met Mr. Bassam Abu Sharif on Monday I said, and I hope that I represent the majority of opinion in the House, that we support the tenacity with which the Palestinian leadership has stuck to its negotiating mandate. The longer that it sticks to that, and the more it resists any return to the methods of terrorism, the greater the moral force it gains for its cause. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary takes the same stance as both his predecessors, with whom I worked on this issue, and if a meeting between him and Mr. Arafat would take things forward, he would have a meeting, but meetings for meetings' sake are not our style.

Mr. Kaufman

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment to the Privy Council. Is he aware that when Mr. Rabin wisely released Dr. Husseini from prison, that was a signal for moderate Palestinians that dialogue was available? Only a few weeks ago, at an international conference in Milan, Dr. Husseini was engaged in discussions with among others, General Dayan's daughter, who is one of the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who wish to achieve peace through dialogue with the Palestinians. Will the right hon. Gentleman inform Mr. Shamir that no amount of manoeuvring within the Israeli Cabinet for internal party political advantage will stop Israel having to talk to the Palestinians in the end? The Israeli Labour party has wisely recognised that fact by accepting the proposals of President Mubarak and the principles of Mr. Baker. Will the Government do everything possible to make it clear to the Likud section of the Israeli Government that they are standing against history?

Mr. Waldegrave

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's kind words. He has summarised the truth eloquently. There is no question but that, at this moment of all moments, when we may be approaching the first face-to-face talks between genuine Palestinian representatives and the Israeli Government, to put those kinds of restrictions on moderate leaders of the Palestinian side is foolish in the extreme.

Mr. Nellist

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you tell us whether it is in order for a Minister to engage in multiple linking of questions? It restricts the number of Back Benchers who can be called to ask supplementaries. Following the linking of four questions dealing with what is obviously the most popular topic for today, only one Back Bencher has been called per three questions, and none of the others have been called at all.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is up to the Minister concerned to decide whether questions are linked. I have given the previous question a fair run, and there are others on the Order Paper, on which the hon. Gentleman may well be called.

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