HC Deb 02 March 1994 vol 238 cc929-30
5. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about relations between Britain and Israel.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

Our bilateral relations are excellent.

Mr. Marshall

Will my right hon. and learned Friend express the sympathy of the whole House with the victims of the Hebron massacre? Will he also congratulate the Government of Israel on their speedy reaction to that massacre and express the hope that the act of one man will not derail the peace process in the middle east because, were it to do so, that would be victory for extremism?

Mr. Hogg

My hon. Friend is right in every particular. It is vital that the peace process be kept alive. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister sent a message to Chairman Arafat expressing our great distress at the crime that had been committed.

Mr. Galloway

Was not one of the swift reactions of the Israeli Government that their armed forces began to shoot down worshippers rushing from the mosque and, in the days that have elapsed since, including today in Hebron, have shot dead many people? Does not Israel bear complete responsibility under the Geneva convention for the safety and well-being of the people under its occupation? Did not Dr. Goldstein do and the rabbi who buried him say what many thousands of settlers in the occupied territories would like to have done and said?

Mr. Hogg

In view of the hon. Gentleman's odious support for Saddam Hussein, I should have thought that he would think it wise to abstain from participating in questions on the middle east.

Sir David Madel

Before any negotiations begin between Israel and Syria on the possible withdrawal of Israel from the Golan Heights, is it the Government's view that, first, full diplomatic relations should be established between Israel and Syria, with all that that entails?

Mr. Hogg

I do not think that that is a condition precedent, but it is important that there should be early movement by both sides. The Government of Syria need to make it plain that what is on offer is a full friendly relationship with Israel, and Israel needs to make it plain that she will withdraw from the Golan Heights.

Sir David Steel

Is the Minister aware that since the terrible tragedy in the mosque at Hebron, almost the same number of people have been killed or wounded in the disturbances that followed? Will he, therefore, support the initiative of the stationing of a UN observer corps on the west bank and assure the Israeli Government that that has proved very successful in diminishing communal violence in South Africa?

Mr. Hogg

The right hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the number of people who have been killed since the shooting in the mosque. There are attractions in stationing an observer force. Discussions are going on in New York on the terms and siting of such an observer presence.

Mr. Dykes

Does not the magnificent work for peace of Moshe Raviv, the Israeli ambassador in London, the fact that the Government resisted the foolish attempts to close a Palestine Liberation Organisation office many years ago and the fact that they are working together show that the majority of moderates both in Israel and among millions of Palestinians are yearning to reach a peace settlement? Therefore, the British Government must persuade the Israeli authorities to proceed to the disarming of extremist settlers.

Mr. Hogg

It is extraordinarily important that the Government of Israel move towards disarming extremist settlers and act to prevent extremist settlers from coming into contact with Palestinians. I agree with my hon. Friend.

Dr. John Cunningham

I join the Minister in denouncing this heinous crime—the wanton slaughter of innocent people at prayer in the mosque at Hebron. All friends of Israel will share the views of the Israeli Prime Minister that that action was a shame on Zionism and an embarrassment to Judaism. Is not the most important thing for Her Majesty's Government to do now to encourage the resumption of the peace process? In that connection, we should remind the Government of Israel of its duties under the Geneva convention to protect all citizens, especially the Palestinians in the west bank and Gaza. Should not other provisions of the agreement—the release of prisoners, the symbols of statehood, an international presence in the occupied territories and the establishment of a PLO civilian police force—be quickly accelerated?

Mr. Hogg

It is extremely important that all parties to the peace process negotiations resume them as speedily as possible. I welcome a number of steps that have been taken by Prime Minister Rabin to disarm the extremist settlers and, indeed, to announce the release of a number of those held in detention.

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