§ 6. Mr. Watson
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further steps he is planning in support of the middle east peace process.
§ 10. Mr. Streeter
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the progress of the middle east peace conference.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
The American and Russian co-sponsors of the middle east peace process have issued invitations to a further round of bilateral negotiations in Washington on 20 April. The Israelis have accepted the invitation. The Arab parties are in Washington this week for consultations, which we hope will result in their agreement to resume negotiations.
§ Mr. Watson
Will the Minister join me in welcoming the acceptance by the Israeli authorities of the appointment of Mr. Feisal Husseini as leader of the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks? Does the Minister accept that that gives at least some hope of a way forward, particularly as Mr. Husseini is from east Jerusalen and is a resident of that city? In terms of legitimising the position of east Jerusalem as an occupied territory, in line with EC policy, can the Minister confirm that one way to move forward the peace talks would be for President Clinton to urge the Israeli authorities to adopt resolutions 242 and 338 so that the peace talks could begin to move forward in a meaningful way?
§ Mr. Hogg
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Feisal Husseini a little whole ago. I certainly recognise the important role that he plays in the peace negotiations and I welcome any step that promotes that role. As to resolutions 242 and 338, it is important for all of us to recognise that negotiations within the peace process must move forward on the basis of those two Security Council resolutions.
§ Mr. Streeter
While recognising the frustration of many Palestinians, does not my right hon. and learned Friend roundly condemn the recent murderous attacks on Israeli citizens and soldiers in parts of the occupied territories? Does he agree that that does not contribute to the peace process? Will my right hon. and learned Friend continue to put pressure on moderate Palestinian leaders to reduce the level of violence and give peace a chance?
§ Mr. Hogg
My hon. Friend makes a very real point. About 69 Palestinians and 22 Israelis have been killed since the beginning of this year. That is lamentable. Escalating violence is something that we all deplore as 816 strongly as we can, and it reinforces the importance of all the parties getting back into bilateral talks as speedily as possible.
§ Mr. Ernie Ross
The Minister will have seen reports in the press at the weekend of the death of Mohammed Suweiti, a citizen of Hebron, who was unable to travel from Hebron to Jerusalem for essential hospital treatment because of the closure of the west bank. Does the Minister not agree that the closure of the west bank and the division of the occupied territories into three is itself a form of collective punishment? If we are to encourage the Palestinians to return to the peace table, does the Minister agree that one of his roles is to seek assurances from the Israeli Government that they, as an occupying power, accept their responsibilities under the fourth Geneva convention?
§ Mr. Hogg
On the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question, yes, indeed—the fourth Geneva convention applies to the occupation by the Israelis of the occupied territories. To take the hon. Gentleman's question more broadly, he is right indeed to deplore the fact that both Gaza and the occupied territories have been closed and that the flow of occupants of those two areas into Israel where previously they worked is very restricted. That will not promote a peace settlement. We need to do all that we can to persuade the Israelis to lift the burden of the occupation.
§ Mr. Rathbone
In the light of the Palestinian slaughter and the deportation of Palestinians from Israel, can my right hon. and learned Friend tell us how the talks with representatives of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation are going?
§ Mr. George Robertson
May I reinforce two of the points that the Minister has made to the House? First, I join him in condemning all the violence in the occupied territories and in Israel, wherever that violence comes from; none of it helps the peace process, nor will it lead to an ultimate solution for either side. Secondly, I join him in welcoming the reports that the Israeli Government are willing to recognise that Mr. Feisal Husseini, a resident of east Jerusalem, should be given his rightful position as the spokesman and leader of the Palestinian community in those talks. That would be a step forward—as would the rumoured move by the Israeli Government to allow some long-standing exiled deportees to return to their native land for the first time in many years. As the Minister pushes the urgency of the middle east peace process further and further up the agenda, notwithstanding all the competition that it faces, will he ensure that the Israeli Government comply both with international law and with international civilised standards so as to ensure that whatever punishment they mete out to the civilian Palestinian population is not so disproportionate as the present decision to close off the occupied territories seems to be?
§ Mr. Hogg
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his first two points and for the support that he has given the 817 Government. I agree entirely about welcoming the possibility of allowing people who were deported some considerable time ago to return to Israel and I agree with the general point about the proportionality of any response to acts of violence, but it would be very much easier for the Israeli Government to make progress in the talks if the violence being committed by the Palestinians were to stop.
§ Mr. Batiste
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the peace process in the middle east would be much enhanced if all middle eastern states signed the international convention banning chemical weapons and had equal opportunities to participate in the watchdog organisation set up under that convention? What steps is he taking to promote that process?
§ Mr. Hogg
The point that my hon. Friend makes about the chemical convention, in particular—and, by implication, weapons of mass destruction in general—is wholly correct. We want all the parties to ratify, and thereafter implement, the chemical warfare convention. We must work to achieve the removal from the middle east of weapons of mass destruction, but those desirable and essential objectives are unlikely fully to be achieved unless and until there is a general settlement within the framework of the current peace process.