HC Deb 24 July 1991 vol 195 cc1155-7
12. 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 to finding a diplomatic and peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict acceptable to the international community.

Mr. Hurd

We have been second to none in our support for Mr. Baker's initiative. We have urged all concerned to show flexibility. We welcome the constructive Arab responses to President Bush and Mr. Baker, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had an excellent discussion on the subject with President Mubarak this morning. I encouraged the Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr. Levy, when I met him on 18 July, to seize this opportunity for progress towards peace.

Mr. Townsend

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have the best opportunity for settling the vexed Palestinian-Israeli problem that we have had since the previous round of fighting between the Israelis and the Arabs, and that it is therefore essential for the United Kingdom and our European Community partners to pull out all the stops to encourage a long-term peaceful settlement? Does my right hon. Friend also accept that the Syrians, several other Arab countries and the Palestine Liberation Organisation have made genuine concessions, and that the international community is entitled to look to the Israelis to make similar concessions shortly?

Mr. Hurd

I agree with my hon. Friend. We are now waiting for the considered Israeli response to the new situation and, in particular, to the Syrian President's response to President Bush. There is a chance here. The Israelis have within their grasp something for which, quite legitimately, they have been aiming for 40 years—an opportunity to sit down and talk peace and negotiate their disputes with those of their Arab neighbours who are still at war—still belligerent—with them. But of course, at the same time, the Israelis have to discuss with representatives of the Palestinians the problems of the occupied territories.

Mr. Janner

Has the Minister seen the reports this morning to the effect that Prime Minister Shamir compared President Assad's response to the Baker initiative with the response of the late President of Egypt when he came to Jerusalem? There is therefore hope of movement. Recognising that President Assad has total control in his country and is in fact a military dictator making his own decisions, whereas the Israeli Government is democratically elected—even if some of us would not have voted for them, just as we would not have voted for the Government here—does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the best way that we can help is by understanding the sensitivities of the Israeli Government and of the people who desperately want peace?

Mr. Hurd

I have always tried to do that, and the talk I had with the Israeli Foreign Minister last week was an example of both of us trying constructively to understand the view of the other. The hon. and learned Gentleman makes a fair point.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Will my right hon. Friend accept congratulations thus far and will he further commend Secretary of State Baker for his painstaking shuttling in an effort to achieve peace in the region? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, to get Israel to the conference table—and, more important, to keep her there—the continuing application of United States pressure is absolutely essential?

Mr. Hurd

I am accepting no congratulations, but I agree with what my hon. Friend said about James Baker. The energy and persistence that he has shown in the face of occasional discouragement are not only worth praising but, as my hon. Friend said, absolutely essential. I have never supposed that other pressures—whether by Europe or by Arab countries—can be an adequate substitute for the sustained energetic interest of the United States in achieving a settlement.

Mr. Ernie Ross

Has the Foreign Secretary had a chance to study the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that came out this morning? If he has—as I have—was he shocked to read, in part IV, which is headed "Obstacles to Regional Stability" that the Committee identified Islam as such an obstacle without in any way separating Islam from fundamentalism? Does he not think that, given that the report will be studied, that is at least a regrettable mistake, and that it will be compounded by the fact that there is no mention of Jewish fundamentalism which clearly threatens the area and the Israeli Government?

Mr. Hurd

I looked quickly at the report, but I did not happen on that particular phrase. It is not a matter for me. The hon. Gentleman will have to take it up with the Chairman and members of the Select Committee.

Mr. Dykes

May I thank my right hon. Friend for his robust efforts in trying to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians together at long last under a true peace treaty, which is now within their grasp and within the grasp of the whole international community? Does my right hon. Friend agree that money does, indeed, come into it, in the sense that the entire world community would, I am sure, favourably and positively consider the question of economic assistance to a near-eastern common market of all those countries if a true peace treaty were eventually attained?

Mr. Hurd

Yes, indeed, and of course the tragedy is that, although this is an area rich in resources, those resources are not properly used for the benefit of the people, not least because of the persistence of this poisonous dispute. Although particular help may be needed in particular matters, once the dispute is settled, the resources are there to make the area one of the most prosperous parts of the world.

Mr. Kaufman

I pay the warmest tribute to the efforts of Mr. James Baker, which have been indefatigable and determined and which have quite certainly brought about the greatest possibility of a middle eastern peace settlement since the 1940s, but does the right hon. Gentleman agree with me that it is important quickly to solve the outstanding issue of the representation of the Palestinians at the talks—because represented at the talks they must be? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with me that Mr. Shamir is right to draw attention to the enormous concessions and progress made by the Syrians and that it is now for Mr. Shamir to make a similar advance on behalf of Israel, because it is the state of Israel perhaps more than any other country or people in the region that stands to benefit from the ending of a dispute which has bedevilled and impoverished the region?

Mr. Hurd

The right hon. Gentleman puts it well. We are waiting for the considered response of the Government of Israel. The first response of the Prime Minister was encouraging, as the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) have pointed out. We hope that Chat will develop into a positive response. Of course the Palestinians must be properly represented and a great deal of work has been devoted to overcoming that obstacle. The idea of having a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation seems to have gathered strength and support. We very much hope that that will happen. I also very much hope that it may be possible to suspend the building of settlements in the occupied territories at this time. There is no doubt that the building of settlements by Israel in the occupied territories constitutes a very considerable obstacle to peace.

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