HC Deb 24 October 1990 vol 178 cc328-30
14. Mr. Pawsey

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made during the past three months about Palestinian refugees to the Government of Israel.

Mr. Waldegrave

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State discussed the situation in the occupied territories, including conditions in the Palestinian refugee camps there, with members of the Israeli Government during his recent visit to the middle east.

Mr. Pawsey

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. He will be aware of the great concern in all parts of the House about recent events in occupied Palestine. The intifada goes on; the violence continues. Does not he therefore believe that it is now time for a major international conference to be convened, possibly under the auspices of the United Nations, to discuss the occupied territories and the refugee problem?

Mr. Waldegrave

We have always made it clear that at the right time an international conference will probably be necessary to help to produce the comprehensive settlement that my right hon. Friend spoke of earlier. I do not think that the time is yet right for that, unfortunately, and we continue to urge that contacts be built up between the Palestinians and the Israeli Government in the way they appeared to be about to begin to do before the present crisis in the Gulf.

Mr. Ernie Ross

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to confirm to the Israeli Government that the United Kingdom Government's position is that east Jerusalem is occupied territory, and therefore that the provisions of the fourth Geneva convention on the protection of civilian persons in time of war apply absolutely and without exception? Will he also confirm that Israel's purported annexation of east Jerusalem is illegal and as such has no effect on the status of east Jerusalem as occupied territory; and that any measures that Israel purports to take to change the status of east Jerusalem are null and void?

Mr. Waldegrave

That is the position of the British Government, yes.

Mr. Lawrence

Is not it strange that Israel's oil-rich Arab neighbours have never thought it right to improve the standard of living of their Arab brothers in the refugee camps?

Mr. Waldegrave

That is rather unfair. One of the many legitimate accusations against Saddam Hussein is that his invasion of Kuwait has destroyed a country which was generous in its support of the Palestinian people. The consequences of that, and of the loss of remittances from Palestinian workers in Kuwait and elsewhere, are now causing even more problems for already hard-pressed people in the occupied territories.

Miss Hoey

In view of the news this morning that the occupied territories have once again been completely closed off by the Israeli Government, and given what we know that the Israeli Government are prepared to do when they are in public view, will the Minister take this opportunity to call the Israeli ambassador to the Foreign Office and insist that the occupied territories be open at the very least to the United Nations observers, who are not even allowed to go in and see the way in which people in the refugee camps are treated?

Mr. Waldegrave

We have made it clear that the Secretary-General's mission, which the United Nations has been attempting to send, should be received in Israel. We deplore the continuing cycle of violence described by the hon. Lady. It is our belief—a belief that I believe is held on both sides of the House—that no amount of military action against the Palestinians will suppress their desire for self-determination. The sooner the Israelis accept that, the more chance that there is of the two peoples living together in peace.

Mr. Conway

Is my hon. Friend aware of some of the excellent work to help physically and mentally handicapped children that is going on in some of the Palestinian refugee camps? If he is not, will he take the opportunity to find out about it to see whether we can do more to help that work?

Mr. Waldegrave

I am aware of the work, and my right hon. Friend is up to date on it as he visited one of those projects. I saw other work of this kind when I was in Gaza. Like the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East and other countries, we support this valuable work. I particularly mention the work at St. John's eye hospital, which has become excellent in dealing with the kind of injuries suffered in such situations.