§ 10. Mr. Gunnell
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations 1076 he has made to the Israeli Government regarding the present and possible expansion of Jewish settlements in the west bank.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
We and our EU partners regularly raise with the Israeli Government our concerns about settlement building in the occupied territories, reaffirming that it is illegal and should be stopped.
§ Mr. Gunnell
I am glad that the Minister takes that stance. Does he agree that the so-called settlement freeze underpins the declaration of principles? If the Minister agrees with the Foreign Secretary that the settlement policy poses a great problem to Mr. Rabin, does he also agree that it poses just as great a problem to Mr. Arafat? Will he redouble his efforts to have the entire EC press for a cessation in the expansion of the settlements because, without that, the peace process will not move forward?
§ Mr. John Marshall
My right hon. and learned Friend will have heard my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary praise the flexibility of Mr. Rabin. Does he agree that it is most unfortunate that that flexibility is being rewarded both by the failure of the captors of Ron Arad to release him and by the fact that the Hamas-inspired guerillas continue to wage war on the people of Israel?
§ Mr. Hogg
The Government, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in particular, have paid tribute to Prime Minister Rabin on many occasions. The steps which he has taken in committing the Israelis to the peace process are acts of courage of historic importance. I agree that other forces, to which my hon Friend referred, are working against that. In particular, the acts of violence—to which my hon. Friend also referred—are also serious obstacles to the peace process. It is vital that we do all that we can to persuade those responsible for those acts of violence to stop them. Furthermore, it is a serious disgrace that Ron Arad should he held—if he is still alive—and he should be released with all possible speed.
§ Sir David Steel
A few minutes ago the Foreign Secretary made an oblique reference to the disappointing quality of the new administration in Jericho and Gaza. Does he recognise that the delay in holding elections is partly caused by the continued settlement programme? Will he confirm that the number of settlements has increased by nearly 10 per cent. since the Oslo agreement?
§ Mr. Hogg
The right hon. Gentleman is echoing the point made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I agree that the creation of additional settlements is an obstacle to peace. It makes it more difficult for the Palestinians to move forward. The principal obstacle to holding elections, however, is not so much the settlements but the Israelis' failure to redeploy their forces away from residential areas within the occupied territories. I would focus on that point. The right hon. Gentleman's broad point, however, is entirely sound.